Masking is a choice but not a mandate at this year’s Heart O’ Texas Fair & Rodeo, which will host its first Mexican Rodeo Spectacular, put retailers from across the country in the new $30 million BASE, and give the livestock show a week’s head start.
The livestock show begins Friday, giving it a six-day head start on the HOT Fair & Rodeo, a scheduling change meant to reduce interaction between fair attendees and those delivering, showcasing and judging animals.
“We’ll have a thousand heifers arriving Oct. 1, which is a lot easier without a carnival in the way,” said fair president and CEO Wes Allison. “That’s the way things were handled last year, so it’s a little bit of hangover from all the COVID stuff.”
The HOT Fair & Rodeo itself runs Oct. 7 through Oct. 17, and Allison described it as “100% go” after a pared-down version last year that lacked a carnival, bands and many traditional events. Allison said the event industry is striving for normalcy and seeking a return to full capacity.
Allison said those choosing not to wear masks will suffer no consequences or limitations on their movements. With or without face coverings they can walk the grounds, ride rides, pet animals and gather inside the BASE, rodeo arena and livestock area, he said.
The State Fair of Texas took a different approach, choosing to require face coverings for those venturing indoors. Dallas County has a mask mandate, apparently bucking Gov. Greg Abbott’s order that neither a governmental entity nor a governmental official may require anyone to wear a mask.
Allison said he canvassed other venues statewide before forming policy for the HOT Fair & Rodeo. Most everything is back to normal for the 2021 version, Allison said, though accommodating rodeo crowds remains a horse of a different color.
“Basically, we’ll start out selling tickets for every other row in the HOT Coliseum, but we’re not going to stop selling tickets,” Allison said.
Allison he’s not legally compelled to limit occupancy in the 4,800-seat rodeo arena to 50% or less, but will take steps to reduce contact when possible.
Allison said he expects packed houses on the two Saturdays of the rodeo’s run, and on the first Sunday, when the pageantry, horsemanship, dancing and celebration of culture embodied by Mexican Rodeo Spectacular grabs the Waco spotlight for the first time.
The bullfighting scheduled on that last Sunday, Oct. 17, traditionally draws very well, Allison said.
At the HOT Fair’s disposal this year is the new multipurpose center, the BASE, which flanks the Extraco Events Center along Bosque Boulevard. John W. Erwin Contractor built the BASE from voter-approved bonds backed by car rental and lodging fees. It will host everything from job fairs and luncheons to sporting events, but from Oct. 7 to Oct. 17, it will be available exclusively to the HOT Fair, and Allison said he’s excited about that.
He said visitors can tour educational displays or avail themselves of Big Top Entertainment’s traveling show featuring retailers from around the country it recruits to sell clothing, home decor and furniture, among other items.
Fair admission is $15 at the gate, but discounts are available on the HOT Fair & Rodeo website, hotfair.com. Rodeo tickets, which include fair admission, cost $20 in advance and $25 on the day of the event.
To assist in crowd management, said Allison, all rodeo seating is reserved.
The rides, fair food, carnival games and musical entertainment will unfold under the Central Texas sky, said Allison, who believes locals are ready to celebrate their fair and will turn out in impressive numbers.
McLennan County Judge Scott Felton said Gov. Abbott has taken this bull by the horns, ruling that local governments may not impose mask mandates. He said Allison is applying guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in his approach to masking during the HOT Fair & Rodeo.
Felton said if the State Fair of Texas indeed is requiring patrons to wear masks upon entering a building, it is violating Abbott’s directive. He said he’s heard indirectly the State Fair is not vigorously enforcing the rule.
The State Fair of Texas has spent $75,000 this year buying masks and hand sanitizer and printing signs that say “masks required while indoors,” the Dallas Morning News reported. The fair was canceled last year due to COVID-19. Many animals bound for showing at the State Fair of Texas were diverted to other locations, including the HOT Fair.
The National Weather Service is forecasting showers this week, only days before the HOT Fair, but Allison said he’s not losing sleep.
“We’ve been purchasing rain insurance the past few years to offset any losses,” said Allison. “Knock on wood, it’s not going to rain, but we know we can’t control that. You have to live with it. Farmers need the rain.”