Crowds packed into the AT&T Center Thursday for the official kickoff to the 2016 San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo. The center typically holds Spurs fans donned in black and silver, but rodeo fans of all ages could be spotted with cowboy hats and boots, some completing the look with a pair of Wranglers and a Texas-sized belt buckle.
For the full schedule of San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo events, click here.
Opening day began at noon with family-fun events including pony rides, a BMX stunt show, and Brick Fest Live!, an interactive LEGO-making event for rodeo-goers. Rodeo competitions started at 7 p.m. with a laser light show and the unveiling of the Professional Rodeo Cowboy's Association prize banner, declaring the San Antonio Rodeo as the "Largest Rodeo of the Year," for its 11th consecutive year.
The spotlight on the banner brought cheers from the crowd, and moment to reflect on the large amount of pride the city takes in its annual rodeo.
The competitions began with bareback riding where participants rode bucking broncos, hoping to stay on for the coveted eight seconds. Steer wrestling, team roping, and saddle bronc riding followed, with a brief charreada performance by world-renown trick roping artist Tomás Garcilazo.
Garcilazo, a third-generation charro, said his performances are a way to share his deep-rooted Mexican culture and traditions.
"I am an ambassador of the charros all over the world, so I want to display and cultivate this tradition," he said.
The calf scramble, tie-down roping, and barrel racing came after, leading up to the highly-anticipated bull riding event. Each event will continue over the course of the next two weeks, leading up to the finals on Saturday, Feb. 27.
The newly-renovated AT&T Center provided a sensational experience for audience members, portraying the evening's events on screens placed around the parameter of the dirt "stage."
Competitors from all over the state and country, save one man from Mexico and another from New Zealand, took part in the various events, some advancing to the next round of competition and others hoping for another shot next year. All received generous applause from the rodeo fans.
Many attendees came to opening night for Grammy-nominated country singer Hunter Hayes' performance at the end of the evening, while others had a connection with the actual rodeo competitors. Megan DeLeon came with her family to cheer on her six-year-old son, Bryson, who participated in the "Mutton Bustin'" event. The kids-only competition sees which brave child can hold onto the hide of a trotting sheep the longest.
"It's an awesome feeling seeing him ride," DeLeon said. "He makes (our family) so proud, and he loves it."
Outside, the celebrations continued in the Montejo Rodeo Cantina where local Tejano band Raymond Gonzalez y Grupo Raya gave a lively performance for a group of dancing fans. For Ric Cervantez and Kim Zimmer, the performance was the highlight of their first rodeo experience as a couple.
"It felt like there was nobody else dancing but us," Zimmer said, laughing. "But it was great, the music was awesome."
A short distance from the music, the rodeo carnival brought patrons who played games and snacked on popcorn and cotton candy under the neon-colored lights. What turned out to be an evening of mild weather was ideal for those hoping to enjoy the outside rodeo grounds that featured music, food, and other rodeo-themed attractions.
The celebrations will continue with competitions, livestock show judging, and musical performances by country and pop artists.
For a list of musical entertainers performing at the rodeo and to buy tickets, click here.
*Top image: A saddle bronc horse bucks wildly as the rider holds on. Photo by Scott Ball.