The Kodiak Rodeo and State Fair is this weekend, and for those not familiar with the world of bull and bronc riding, Kodiak will have its own hype man to explain it to them. Wasilla-based James Hastings, who’s been in rodeo for about seventeen years, says he’ll serve as the “barrel man” or “rodeo clown” who interacts with the crowd, cracks jokes, and narrates the event.
“I work really hard to try to explain it the first time so they know what they’re seeing, ‘cause you can watch it and not know why or what’s going on. So, we’ll talk to why they do certain things that they do. What is a legal head catch with a rope? What does it mean to slap the bull? Well, there’s certain things you can’t do. So, I’ll coach everybody through it so they understand it.”
He says it’s important that the audience connect with the event.
“When the crowd’s into it, they’re really into it. And when they’re not, it’s really hard work. It’s like watching a comedy on TV with no laugh track. You’re not really sure when to clap and when to cheer and when to go aw. So, we kind of coach them through it. So, you’ll start the rodeo with a lot of excitement, and then you’ll see confusion, and people aren’t quite sure what they’re watching. So, once they engage, they feel like they’re part of the sport.”
Hastings says he’ll often guide the contestants through the activities as well.
“Because you get in there in the heat of the moment, and you sort of start to forget what you’re doing. Sometimes the bronc rider’s just sitting on the horse, and I’ll yell at him, use your legs, work the horse, make the horse work harder. Or with the roping, I’ll say, and now they’re gonna dally and turn to the left. ‘Cause sometimes people forget.”
When not enjoying rodeo, Hastings works as a transitional employment coordinator for the Department of Defense, and is also part of the small, Alaska-based veteran group, Arctic Warrior Rodeo Association.
Bonnie Stratman, president of the Kodiak Rodeo and State Fair, says this year the rodeo is sanctioned by Arctic Warrior Rodeo Association and the Professional Armed Forces Rodeo Association. She says a lot of Alaska residents in the military come from communities where rodeo has a presence.
“They’re used to rodeo, that’s a big part of their lives when they get here and so, to be able to have the opportunity to join an association, to continue on with something that’s near and dear to their hearts is really great, especially when you’re so far away from home. We have a bunch of the guys that are bull riding are actually either in the military or out of the military are most of our bull riders this weekend. And so it’s a good opportunity for them to feel like a little slice of home and doing something that they did while they’re so far away.”
The rodeo will be at 3 p.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. The rodeo this year will also be seeking donations for cancer fundraising organization, Relay for Life, and organizers ask that people who attend the event wear pink for cancer awareness.