Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, Dec. 3, 2010 | 12:14 p.m.
At one end of the party at the refurbished Mirage sports book, Francis and Inez Schuyler sat closely on a hay bale.
It seemed to be a hay bale, at least. Maybe it was a box draped in a hay-like wrap to look like a bale.
But there they were, sitting and grinning, the couple from near Milwaukee who has attended every National Finals Rodeo for the past 19 years.
Francis and Inez have not seen the event live. Thousands of fans visit Las Vegas each year for the NFR but never make it to the Thomas & Mack for the live sessions, which began Thursday and run through Dec. 11. The event’s popularity and relatively limited ticket availability have prompted several hotels to carry the event on big screens and hold these rowdy viewing parties.
Decked out in an uncharacteristic cowboy motif, The Mirage hosted "Rodeo Vegas," a pretty lively hoedown Thursday night, which started about 10 p.m. and stretched past midnight. The shindig drew a few hundred hatted types who danced and chatted loudly to country-rock band Route 66.
The band sounded dandy and was positioned uniquely on a stage under the sports book’s betting board, so as they warbled Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” you could track this weekend’s NFL lines.
Francis and Inez would have danced to the slick sounds of Route 66, as they have danced at such country-western parties since they were married 51 years ago, but they suffer from some joint issues. Inez is troubled by a bad hip and knee and walks with a cane; Francis has two bad knees.
But they sat and swayed anyway.
“We’ve been to most of the hotels for the NFR over the years,” Francis said, ticking off such Vegas properties as Sam’s Town, South Point, The Orleans and Gold Coast. “We’re not that interested in going to (the Thomas & Mack), but we love to go to the parties.”
“We’d be out dancing,” Inez said, tapping her cane on the ground, “but those days are over. We’ve danced too much!” Still, she wandered out near the dance floor to watch the band.
Francis and Inez might have been amused at another couple who took to the floor with a lot less time as dance partners than their 51 years. Justin Bell of Stephenville, Texas, hooked up with one Morgin Sheppard of Rough and Ready, Calif. (this pairing was almost too good to be true, given their names and hometowns). The two just met at the event and seemed to be enjoying some sort of love connection.
“It’s my second year for the NFR,” Bell said. “I’m here with some friends.”
Perched on what is usually the betting counter at the sports book were Randy and Angie Venhaus of Pacific, Mo. When asked if they were in town for the rodeo, Randy drolly answered, “What rodeo?”
Buy that man a shot!
“We’re here for the rodeo, yeah,” he continued, laughing. “Our son (Brandon) is a saddle bronc rider -- not at this level, but he’s good. He finished second in state this year, and he turned 21 in May. So …”
Time to party?
“Time to party!”
The band agreed. During a break in the set, the vocalist called out, “How many of you are from outta town!?”
A huge cheer went up.
“How many from Las Vegas!”
There was a single "woo-hoo!”
“Just one?” the singer said, laughing.
Hey, I can always be counted on to avoid a shutout.
Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.