Heat cools off to help draw near-record crowds of more than 47,000 visitors to St. Paul over five days

by: PHIL HAWKINS - The 79th annual St. Paul Rodeo, which was held from July 1-5, saw attendance numbers reach beyond 47,000, coming close to the events record. In the 79-year history of the St. Paul Rodeo, this past weekend ranks among the best. At least that’s what Kevin Smith of the rodeo’s board of directors boasts.

Smith had good reason to be positive after tallying the final numbers from last week’s five-day event. Slightly more than 47,000 people attended the six performances at the rodeo grounds, roughly 600 less than the biggest crowd ever recorded in the St. Paul Rodeo’s history.

While Smith credits much of the success to the hard work of the rodeo’s partners, nonprofits and performers, organizers also had the good fortune of pristine weather and a weekend date for the rodeo’s two biggest days.

“You can’t pay people to come out when it’s that hot,” he said. “Going into this thing, we were a little bit leery because the night of the PBR, it was about 99 degrees with 80 percent humidity.”

The weather was the biggest variable going into the rodeo, and when the Professional Bull Riding performance kicked off the rodeo in sweltering heat, Smith was understandably worried. On the opening night of the performance, Smith was in the booth above the chutes, sweating out the hot evening with the announcers.

“The miracle that happened — when I came down, it was 78 degrees with a nice cool breeze,” he said. “That was a gift from above.”

by: GARY ALLEN - Steer wrestling was one of many attractions available inside the rodeo grounds.The temperature stayed in the low-80s throughout the final four days of the event — just warm enough to attract big crowds.

Two other factors — location and date — play a big role in the crowd size as well, Smith said.

“We’re exactly where the people are,” he said. “Roughly 80 percent of the state is within driving distance of St. Paul.”

The rodeo always coincides with Independence Day as well, which can be good or bad, depending on which day the holiday falls on each year. This time around, the Friday holiday gave most people a three-day weekend to plan their events, which helped attract more people to St. Paul, Smith said.

That not only helped the rodeo, but all of the nonprofit partners that benefit from the outpouring of support.

“We want for all of our partners to do well,” Smith said. “I suspect that the nonprofits did very well here. That would include the St. Paul Parish, St. Paul Jaycees, the (St. Paul) High School Booster Club, and others.”

But this year’s date was just right to attract people in droves.

By the time the annual Independence Day parade was finishing its route at 11 a.m., tickets for that evening’s rodeo performance were already sold out, prompting rodeo fans to buy tickets for Saturday’s event and spend one more day in the St. Paul area.

“That converted everybody who called after noon on the day of the fourth,” Smith said.

“If they wanted to come to the rodeo, they had to come on the fifth, and that really helped to fill that night.”

Of course, it’s no accident that rodeo organizers have always planned their event around the celebration of our nation’s independence.

The rodeo and the holiday go hand in hand, which makes the St. Paul event a natural draw for families each year.

“In this country and this Western lifestyle, with the patriotism that comes with the cowboy way of life, everybody is doing something on the Fourth of July,” he GARY ALLEN - There was also a wide variety of activities for all ages, including carnival rides.

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