Saturday, July 11, 2009

Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo July 11-12 in Hayward

Driving on I-580, Saturday afternoon, the blue sky streaked with white cotton and hardened taffy, my granddaughter and I headed east toward the Mission Hills and the 25th Annual Bill Pickett Invitations Rodeo. Once we exited, it took nearly an hour to snake along the road toward the Rowell Ranch Arena up ahead. Never again will I wait to the last minute to leave the house on a Bill Pickett weekend.

I thought about taking our bikes on BART next time, when we finally arrived, parked and went to our seats. It was about 3 p.m. Horse trailers were all along the periphery, and as we entered I heard the National Anthem being played.

Children were petting horses and sporting cowboy gear, I found out later hats were gifts from a BPIR sponsor. The day was warm, dusty and as the day progressed a bit cooler --the sky graying a bit and tinkling on unsuspecting bare arms, but the steer riding was enough to make the audience rethink leaving before the final event--relay races, were completed.

We watched horses do the Hollywood Shuffle, Snoop Dog (a real cow-dog) roll over, play dead and shake hands, kids as young as 12-14 rode in a couple of events like the barrel race and won. I liked the relay the best, that and the bronco rides. That was pretty exciting. In the calf tying, I wondered if the animals who were being flipped and tied were all right afterwards. I also wondered about the steers who were also flipped and held down. Overall, it just seemed like animals trained to participate in a recreational activity.

I'm not certain what the trade-off would be for the animals, but the quarter horses were magnificent to watch in action as they whizzed up and down the large field with a rider and sometimes without. It was amazing watching the horses make quick turns sometimes losing the rider along the way. Several times the audience stood when it seemed like the horse was going to hit a wall or fence...of course the horse didn't, but the rider...well that was a different story.

I loved the relaxed vibe and the easy manner today at the rodeo. Everyone should go to the rodeo, the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo in particular. The wall-to-wall black folks, is theraputic. Everyone, young and old, were smiling, patient with each other, and just feeling really irie. I felt transported to a time when black people loved each other and loved being with each other.

It felt like a Maafa Commemoration, the beach after the ritual when we're just chillin' talkin' and eatin' as the waves wash up to the shores, drumming and other African instruments keeping the groove cool and mellow.

It was like that... smooth jazz...fried catfish with Louisiana hot sauce, potato salad with corn bread, vanilla ice cream chasing peach cobbler. It was another country, another time, another place, another where I couldn't leave, didn't want to climb out of the canyon as the parking lot emptied, the sun dipped its head on the horizon, the sky now streaked with pink, blues and purples... just as the tailgate party got kick-started...the trailers hitched in a circle like what one reads about when one hears about those wagon trains and early explorers who wanted to expand the territory northwest the mythologies whitened, the reality a lot more colorful.

When what I guess would be called half time, if we were at a football game, began, Miko Marks, a black country singer I interviewed earlier this year on my radio show, sang a few of her hits, Brianna and I got up to walk through the vending area to visit the merchants and perhaps buy something. After the $8 parking fee, all I had left was enough for a souvenir program, but as we people watched and looked at the long food lines--yummy! we saw Brianna's other grandmother, Mia and her Bree's uncle Maurice, whom we'd wanted to invite to the rodeo.

It was perfect. We moved from the bleachers to the box seats to sit with them, and hung out there until the final events concluded with a horse run where the horses danced around the arena...unbridled and without riders. It was a lovely moment a time capsule of a moment passed.

Together we all meandered through the crowd, snapping photos as cute kids in cowboy attire, including spurs walked by. One little girl had on hot pink: dress, boots and hat. She was too cute.

One of the impressive aspects of the rodeo besides the intergenerational aspect, which was lovely--the respect and regard the youth held the adults and the pride the adults held the youth. The Kidz Calf Scramble,where children 10 and younger chased after two calves in the ring trying to pull off a ribbon stuck to their back. It was fun watching the 50-60 kids chase the calves. The other event, which wasn't in the program, but was so culturally apropos was the impromptu Hollywood Shuffle with the cowgirls and cowboys dancing near the gate, cowboys on horses fancy dancing, and then one cowboy stood up in his saddle and danced and then twirled his lasso. It was impressive.

The afternoon was filled with such marvelous talent and sportsmanship. With KBLX as one of the sponsors, the music was great and of course we sang along to quite a few songs without much prompting from the announcer. The cultural vocabulary reached across age and class. We were black and proud and without any conversation witness to the power of this shared reality, one James Brown named in a popular hit song.

As my granddaughter pulled on my shirt and asked me to take her over to ride the ponies, I encouraged her to walk over as the cowboy I was speaking to told her, ask one of his boys to help her.

She didn't.

I continued to speak to Jesse, whose horses, Star Fire (mom) and her two year old daughter, Golden Star, were enjoying alfalfa. Jesse, who lives in Valley Springs (near Stockton), hails from Martaville, Louisiana. He is a part of the Brotherhood Riders. They sponsor youth from urban areas and teach them animal husbandry.

"If you give her an apple of carrot she is your friend for life," Jesse told Brianna. Unfortunately, we didn't have either, but next year....Jesse's Star Fire was newly pregnant, the dad, "Dignity Day," born on a Sunday, was at home. "He is huge," his owner said of his horse, the father of all Star Fire's children. "Can you see the constellation in her eyes?" He asked me and then I looked again. It did look like a galaxy--pretty cool.

Jesse said his nine siblings, like the Jacksons--were separated by stair steps, similar to the progeny of his mare and her mate. Proudly admitting that he delivered all of Star Fire's foals, Jesse said, horses can have babies one after the other. Brianna suggested Star Fire's foal's name: Blue Star.

The horse Brianna had ridden a bit earlier, had two different colored eyes. Dolly was 4, another horse we met this afternoon, Whiskey was 5. This is young for a horse. They live long lives. Ramon told me. He held the horse Bree was riding. All the animals looked well cared for and loved. Equestrian sports seems like a great way to keep families together. I just loved Stephanie Haynes trailer, her names in big bold lettering.

Stephanie won in her category--I'm vague because I don't remember which one, (I think it was Ladies Steer Undecoratin' The women, take the ribbon off the steer). In the various events: Barrel Racin', Bull Doggin', Calf Roppin', Junior Barrel Racin', and my favorite, Pony Express Relay Race, even when someone missed their goal we applauded their effort. None of it looked easy, even losing.

Most of the contestants grew up on ranches in the south, but here in the SF Bay, we have a strong black cowboy tradition with the parade each year in October in Oakland. I saw Oakland Black Cowboy Association logos on a few folks when we were walking around and I hope to have members of the Black Cowboy Association in Oakland, on my radio show to talk about their annual parade and community barbecue in West Oakland.

I didn't realize it was after six when we left, but like I said, everyone was so nice. I want to go to LA to the finals November 21-22. Listen to the interview I had with Jeff Duvall and Stephanie Haynes Friday, July 10, 9:30 AM, at


At 4:57 PM, Blogger jody said...

This is a fantatic story aobut the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo. You captured the essence and spirit of the Black rodeo experience. Keep on writing.

Jody G

At 3:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking the time to share your written expression of what every Cowboy/Cowgirl strives to acheive. I hope you and your children get a chance to get there early next season and even experience the Grand Entry and desent down the mountian face. You and your expressions will always be a part of what we hope will touch others.
Thank You:
Jeff Douvel

At 4:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing your pictures and story; i plan on attending the rodeo in Maryland n 19 sept; i've been before and i love it!!!


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