“This ain’t my first rodeo,” is a handy, highly adaptable saying that is used and abused by just about everyone at one time or another – even by folks who’ve never been within a country mile of a rodeo.

Well, everyone who’s flocking to the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo this year can declare in all honesty and with complete accuracy: “This is my first rodeo – at Dickies Arena.”

The 2020 rodeo at the new arena adjacent to the Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth’s Cultural District is a brand-new deal, with a brand-new venue that’s redefining the long-treasured tradition of the Stock Show & Rodeo – especially the rodeo.

Fort Worth now has a first-class arena for rodeo and all sorts of sports and entertainment activities. It seats almost twice as many folks as the old Will Rogers Coliseum. The lighting is better. The sound is better. Even the food and drinks are better.

Dickies Arena is not only a better setting for fans to watch the rodeo, with its spectacular jumbo video display giving every seat a front-row vantage point but it’s also a better venue for the contestants. The rodeo performers have comfortable locker rooms and other amenities. That means the best of the best will rush here to compete.

I’m privileged to ride in the nightly Grand Entry and it’s as exciting as ever. Familiar faces still line the stands. Smiling children still reach out for a friendly hand-slap as you circle the arena.

It’s a homecoming on horseback with the others involved behind the scenes and out front in the nightly parade. There is a close-knit community formed over the years that is renewed each year and for every performance. You get to be a cowboy or cowgirl every night in front of thousands of folks and it’s a thrill.

Familiar as it is, Dickies Arena makes it all feel new. There are things we all miss about Will Rogers Coliseum but the new arena heralds a huge step forward for Fort Worth and North Texas. We’ve made history before. This is the longest running and oldest indoor rodeo in the world. It’s now in the newest and finest venue possible.

Change can be difficult, and it would be easy to grouse about missing the old days and the old place but there’s no arguing with progress as we gallop into the third decade of the 21st century.

Besides, this new arena was not built as a monument for those of us who can see decades of stock shows in the rearview mirror. It is a forward-looking showplace linking the past to the future for little cowboys and cowgirls walking hand-in-hand into a world full of hope and possibilities.

The past, along with its successes and failures, belongs to us. The future, and the wonders it will bring, belongs to them.

“This thing is legendary,” as the Stock Show & Rodeo marketing slogan reminds us. But the new arena launches a new legacy and a new generation of legend builders.

Richard Connor is president and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press. Contact him at rconnor@bizpress.net

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