Losing the Stock Show next year puts a dent in a growing tradition with my father

After I came back to Colorado, the annual Western extravaganza gave me a chance to bond with my old man.

My father, Esteban Hernandez, me (right, with L.) during the PBR Chute Out at the National Western Stock Show on Monday, Jan. 13., 2020. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

My father, Esteban Hernandez, me (right, with L.) during the PBR Chute Out at the National Western Stock Show on Monday, Jan. 13., 2020. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

I tossed back the shot of whiskey and walked toward my Dad. He had chosen something lighter, a michelada. I chased my shot with a tallboy.

We were inside the Denver Coliseum in January. Our necks stretched to see what the vendors were peddling as we made our way back to our seats at the 114th National Western Stock Show.

We entered the arena, joining thousands of other cowboy hat-wearing souls waiting for the Professional Bull Riders Chute Out to resume. We got our drinks during a kind of halftime show featuring cattle wrangling. The main event was bull riding.

It was the second January my Dad and I had decided to go to the Stock Show. We started going after I moved back to Colorado in February 2018 after I spent nearly five years in Connecticut. Living so far away for what felt like a long time meant constantly playing catch up with family once I returned.

Maybe that’s why, in my eyes, going to the rodeo was now officially a thing after only two years, an occasion I looked forward to every January to hang out with my Dad, who I’m named after. It was a fledgling personal tradition connected to a much older one: the 100-plus-year-old Stock Show, only deterred once in the past, by an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease in 1915.

I’ve been covering COVID-19 since February, before Colorado reported its first case in March, but even I was surprised by how personal Monday’s news that the Stock Show wouldn’t return next year felt, even though I saw it coming.

A cattle wrangling competition during the PBR Chute Out at the National Western Stock Show on Monday, Jan. 13., 2020. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

A cattle wrangling competition during the PBR Chute Out at the National Western Stock Show on Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

Growing up in Aurora, I had gone to the Stock Show in the past. I always took my visits for granted.

When my Dad and I go to the Stock Show, we wear our best pearl snap shirts, walk around the grounds, check out the hats and boots, eat fried foods, have a few drinks — he usually questions my craft beer choices — and catch up.

He grew up in a rural part of Mexico, where “going out” involved things like going to a jaripeo, basically the Mexican equivalent of bull riding rodeos. He told me he was 5-years-old the first time he went to one, “a los toros” as he put it. They’re popular in his home state of Jalisco, where “dressing up” for jaripeos meant looking like a vaquero, loosely translated to “cowboy” (though vaqueros actually predate the American cowboy, whom they greatly influenced). Similar to American rodeos, there’s usually some pageantry, with rider introductions and special lighting.

Unlike American rodeos, however, there’s usually a live band, with brassy music blasting before and after a bull ride. We’ve actually gone to several jaripeos in Colorado, including ones in Aurora and in Keenesburg. There’s always food, booze, western wear and some dancing if you find the right patch of dirt.

A jaripeo in Keenesburg on Aug. 26, 2018. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

A jaripeo in Keenesburg on Aug. 26, 2018. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

When the pandemic hit, we realized those events weren’t going to happen this year. My Dad still found a way to enjoy one in Mexico by paying to see one broadcast over Facebook. He wanted to support the organizers, who we had seen last year during a U.S. tour. The event included no fans, only bull riders, rodeo clowns (they’re in Mexico, too) and a few other folks. And, of course, the band. It was fun to see him enjoy one of his favorite pastimes tweaked a bit for these weird time.

When Monday’s news came, it all hit me. No National Western Stock Show. No rodeo in Denver. No perusing new hats and boots. No fried food. No funny Dad moments at the rodeo. No getting dressed up like a cowboy, which I’ve done since I was a kid when my Dad had my siblings and I dress up in cowboy hats and boots for one of those department store family photos.

I must have sighed a hundred times as I heard city officials talk about their decision this week. I fully believed board chairman Doug Jones when he said he made the announcement “with heartfelt emotion.” That phrase is a bit of a cliche at press conferences, but this time it rang true to me.

Is it a little silly to get worked up over a canceled event like this? Sure, but it’s also silly to ignore things that bother you. When I texted my Dad there would be no Stock Show, he already knew. “Si esta triste,” he said. But he understood, like I did, that it was the right call. I’m pretty sure he already knew how I felt, but he asked me anyway. That’s what dads do.

I know next time I see him, we’ll talk about the news and how much of a bummer it is. But big picture, we’ll be fine. The Stock Show will be back before we know it. I got a new belt a few weeks ago that I think will look great next time we go. I know that for sure because, well, my Dad helped me pick it out.

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