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July 23, 2014

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Kats Goes Cowboy: Bareback riders at home in frenzied Fremont Street scene

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Bareback riders Wes Stevenson and Will Lowe sign autographs during the annual Downtown Hoedown at Fremont Street Experience on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010.

As always during big events on Fremont Street, it’s difficult to tell who is in costume and who is not.

The guys dressed as Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of KISS? Costume.

NFR - Downtown Hoedown

A rodeo fan quaffs a beer from a boot shaped glass during the annual Downtown Hoedown at the Fremont Street Experience Wednesday, December 1, 2010. Launch slideshow »

Bareback Champions at the Hoedown

John Katsilometes of Kats Goes Cowboy/Las Vegas Sun heads to the 24th annual Downtown Hoedown on Fremont Street to talk to bareback rodeo champions Wes Stevenson, ranked #4, and Will Lowe, ranked #7. The Hoedown kicks off the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo that is going on at the Thomas & Mack Center through Dec. 11.

The two gentlemen in cowboy hats (one beige, the other black), boots, Wrangler jeans and brown leather MGM Grand jackets? Not in costume.

But those wearing their common cowboy attire are having as much fun as everyone.

“It’s like Woodstock,” says Will Lowe, “wherever you look.”

Indeed. The party under the Fremont Street Experience light show, powered by bands on the Experience’s two outdoor stages, is rare in that you can either wear cowboy boots or drink from them. Or, if you like, you can always gulp beer from the FSE’s traditional plastic football.

It’s all part of the Downtown Hoedown, the Wednesday-night run-up to the National Finals Rodeo, which launches tonight and runs through Dec. 11 at the Thomas & Mack Center. Lowe is signing black-and-white photos and posing for pictures with his friend and fellow bareback rider Wes Stevenson.

Some fans readily recognize the duo. Others are equally curious and bemused to see real cowboys along Fremont Street. Still other are, well, quite drunk. But it doesn’t matter to these bareback riders, who love the fun wherever they can find it on the road.

They say there is no other rodeo like it, and they would know. The two have been traveling partners for several years, having met on the college rodeo circuit (Stevenson attended Texas Tech in Lubbock and Western Texas College in Snyder; Lowe attended Vernon College, also in Texas). They travel with a group known as the “Wolf Pack,” which includes competitors Royce Ford and Tom McFarland. Stevenson is fourth in the current NFR bareback season standings and Lowe is seventh.

They are friendly enough to help each other with equipment needs or a piece of advice, but laugh at the concept of splitting prize money. The cowboy-Fremont Street marriage is not the first union of the two cultures in the lives of these men. In 2002, Lowe and his wife, Tiffani, were married in Las Vegas.

The reception has been going on for years.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.

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