By Erianne Lewis | Arts and Life Editor
Thursday marked the start of the 11-day Heart of Texas Fair & Rodeo event. HOT is celebrating its 69th anniversary after a rough year due to the pandemic, which restricted many of its operations.
Chavra Ingram, vice president of marketing and sponsorship development, said they are excited to return to normal operations this year. The HOT fair will kick off Thursday with Sneak-a-Peek, which is all about the carnival rides and the food, Ingram said. The event will be from 6 p.m. – 11 p.m. and tickets can be found here.
“If you are a ride enthusiast or you just really are craving that first corndog or funnel cake, then tonight is your night to come out,” Ingram said. “Gate admission is discounted to only $5, or the rides are $2 each, or you can get an unlimited rides armband for $35.”
The Heart of Texas Fair and Rodeo is the largest fair and rodeo event in central Texas, Ingram said. In 2019, the fair and rodeo had about 223,000 people come through its gates during the 11-day event. Ingram said this year, it is hoping to either meet or exceed that total.
“We are very much anticipating a good crowd,” Ingram said. “We’ve talked to a lot of our other friends in the fair industry, and I think after 2020 people are just ready to get out and go. They’ve all had record numbers and we don’t want to be the one to break that trend.”
TC Long, one of two rodeo announcers, said he has been announcing for around 24 years but has only been working for the HOT rodeo for about five years. Long said he previously did the mutton bustin’ event before he was in this position, but when long-time announcer Hadley Barrett passed away in 2017, after working at the HOT rodeo for three decades, Long took his spot.
Long said his favorite part of the rodeo is that there are so many different events and a lot of entertainment.
“I always say it doesn’t matter if you are two or 92, there’s something in [the] rodeo that you can enjoy,” Long said. “From the openings, to the entertainment, to the events, that’s what I like about it.”
HOT will not be requiring masks or negative COVID-19 tests for entry into the fairgrounds, but it will be offering additional hand-washing and hand sanitizing stations, where social distancing will be encouraged. Although there will be no requirements, Ingram said HOT encourages people to take precautions that they feel are necessary.
“We have a lot of things that you can do and enjoy outside,” Ingram said. “You don’t necessarily have to go into a building to get a really good fair experience here. All the carnival rides are outside, the food vendors are outside, the petting zoo is outside [and] a lot of the show attractions are outside. You can come and really get a good taste and flavor of the fair, without ever having to go into the fair, if that’s a concern for you.”
Ingram said there has been a slight change to the ticketing system at the rodeo this year as well.
“This year the rodeo is ticketed every night,” Ingram said. “In the past it was only ticketed on the two Saturdays and your fair admission ticket would allow you to go into the rodeo. This year you have to have a ticket specifically for the rodeo to go into the rodeo, however that ticket is also good for admission onto the fairgrounds, and includes all of the attractions and the concert that is happening.”
A full list of events broken down by date can be found here.
Ingram said the rodeo is absolutely her favorite event.
“I came here having never seen a rodeo or watched one all the way through and I was hooked from the get-go,” Ingram said. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s high energy and high action and I just think we have a great rodeo committee and they put on a really good performance. [From] the lights and the sounds, and all the things that go into enhancing what the cowgirls and cowboys are doing out there on the dirt, it really is just a really great show and I would encourage anybody to come out and watch it. Secondly, I’m really looking forward to seeing our grounds full of smiling faces again. We missed everybody last year and we are just so excited to be open and have everybody come back this year.”