Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012 | 6 p.m.
With a $6 million-plus purse at stake, it’s a wild ride for the next 10 days as the 2012 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo arrives, so hang on tight. Vegas goes country starting today through Dec. 15 as cowboy hats cover the Strip and chaps, boots and spurs decorate the Thomas & Mack Arena.
Every December, the annual WNFR receives a warm welcome as bulls and their riders take over the town, and our Editor at Large John Katsilometes says it isn’t moving to Dallas anytime soon.
For the fifth consecutive year, MGM Grand is “Home of the Champions” as the resort hosts more than 17 world champion cowboys and cowgirls throughout the 10 competition days. It also is the official home of this year’s WNFR Tie-Down Roping contestants. The Crown Royal Gold Buckle Zone is located at MGM’s entertainment bar, Central, with nightly appearances by riders, including nine-time all-around world champion Trevor Brazile.
We’ll have photo coverage throughout the rodeo and its nonstop party with the stars. The Downtown Hoedown on Fremont Street continues all 10 nights with free concerts on three stages; here’s the first-weekend Royal Robin Rundown:
THURSDAY, DEC. 6
The first performance of WNFR is at the Thomas & Mack.
Miss Willie Brown kicks off the nightly entertainment of the ninth annual Rodeo Vegas venue at the Mirage.
Riders Chad Masters and Kaleb Driggers sign autographs at House of Blues in Mandalay Bay.
FRIDAY, DEC. 7
Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s “Soul2Soul” is at the Venetian for two nights.
Lonestar is at Orleans Showroom for two nights.
Merle Haggard is at Golden Nugget for two nights.
Susie Dobbs is at South Point.
Josh Thompson is at the Mirage Race & Sports Book.
LoCash Cowboys is at MGM Grand Gold Buckle Zone for two nights.
Bill Engvall is at Treasure Island.
Ron White is at the Mirage for two nights.
Rodney Carrington is at Hollywood Theater in MGM Grand all weekend.
Cowboy Bill Martin and Penny Prince are at Big Al’s Comedy Club at the Orleans all weekend.
OF SPECIAL NOTE
The second performance opens with a salute to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association committees and contract acts and the national anthem by Megan King of Rodeo Austin.
There are autograph signings all weekend with cowboys and cowgirls at Cowboy Marketplace and Mizuya Lounge both at Mandalay Bay.
The Miss Rodeo America Pageant’s “Cowgirl Kickoff Party With a Fashion Forward Theme” is at MGM Grand Convention Center.
The Miss Rodeo America Pageant Autograph Session at MGM Grand Buckle Zone is for two nights featuring 2012 Miss Rodeo America Mackenzie Carr on Dec. 8.
Tilden Hooper, Crown Royal rider, celebrates WNFR at Senor Frog’s at Treasure Island.
SATURDAY, DEC. 8
Shania Twain is at the Colosseum in Caesars Palace for two nights.
Rodney Atkins is at HOB.
Craig Morgan is at the Mirage Race & Sports Book.
OF SPECIAL NOTE
The third performance features Rodney Atkins and the national anthem by Susie McEntire, younger sister of Reba McEntire.
SUNDAY, DEC. 9
The Charlie Daniels Band is at Golden Nugget for two nights.
Sam Riddle is at the Mirage Race & Sports Book.
OF SPECIAL NOTE
The fourth performance is Memorial Night with an opening by Bonnie Bishop and the national anthem by Jason Eagle.
The Cowboy Christmas Gift Show at the Convention Center features more than 400 booths in 300,000 square feet of selling space for western wear, hats, boots, furniture and arts and crafts.
At the Hard Rock Hotel, the WNFR Tailgate Parties run Dec. 6-9 and Dec. 13-15. with performances on the Cooper Tires stage by C.J. Simmons (Dec. 6-9) and Cash Presley (Dec. 6-9, 13-15). Autograph signing sessions will be held Friday with Cody Whitney and Steve Woolsey on Dec. 13. At Vinyl, there are free shows with Cletus & Mexican Sweat from Dec. 6-7, Thrillbilly Deluxe on Dec. 9 and Derryl Perry from Dec. 10-13.
Be sure to check out the extensive WNFR special section that our colleagues at the Las Vegas Sun have compiled.
This is the 20th WNFR and for Fred Whitfield his last appearance. He’s hoping to go out with his eighth tie-down roping gold buckle to promote his autobiography “Gold Buckles Don’t Lie” being published in the spring. Luke Branquinho hopes to become the first steer wrestler since 1990 to win back-to-back world championships.
Trevor Brazile wants to extend his record for all-around titles to 10 with a seventh consecutive win and his 17th gold buckle. It also would make him the first cowboy in the sport’s history to earn multiple world championships in four categories. He has nine titles in the all-around, three in steer roping, three in tie-down roping and one in team roping.
Let the games and the good times roll!
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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