The Cow Palace was never intended to host half-naked people cavorting in leather and rubber, or the Grateful Dead. It was created, literally, to house local livestock expositions. But agrarian San Francisco is long gone, and today's cows -- shrink-wrapped and sold by the ounce -- are best displayed on a plate, not on a stage.
But that's set to change, as the Grand National Rodeo, Horse and Stock Showreturns the Cow Palace to its former glory. This isn't some nostalgic dog-and-pony show, but one of the largest rodeos of its kind and a regular stop on the ProRodeo and Professional Bull Riders tours. Even Charlie Daniels will be there.
Still, you might be thinking: a rodeo? Livestock? Luke Perry in a cowboy hat? You've got election work to do, or something. But wait -- the show will have bulls, massive 2,000-pound beasts that spin like a tornado when you so much as touch them, and plenty of foolhardy souls who plan to sit on them.
Admission is $15-35 per event
Chances are this could be your first rodeo, so here's a primer: There are seven events, and many of them involve bucking. The most physically demanding is bareback riding, in which a horse tries to flip a rider into the stands. The most traditional is saddle-bronc riding, in which a horse tries to flip a rider and his saddle into the stands. In steer-wrestling and -roping events riders tackle and immobilize cows solo or in teams. And barrel racing is the domain of women: Horse and cowgirl work as a team, zipping around an arrangement of barrels, chasing nothing but time and causing no grief.
Bull riding, though, is the main draw, as riders attempt to hang on for the eight most dangerous seconds in sports before they're bucked with a fury that would be catastrophic for you and me. Like old Canadian hockey players, riders don't wear helmets, and they play hurt. Catch bull riding during each of the 10 rodeo performances and for a whole night at the PBR Challenger event on Thursday, Nov. 4, in which 45 riders compete for slots on the major-league tour.
Daytime events display the docile side of ranch life: horse shows, western art events, wine tastings, and the homely thrill of livestock competitions. On Friday, Oct. 29, is the sheepdog event, in which maniacal border collies herd sheep with supernatural finesse. As for Charlie Daniels, he'll take the stage that night for his "Devil Went Down to Georgia" mix of Southern rock and country, while musician/ writer/Tremors star Reba McEntire performs the following Friday, Nov. 5. The show begins to wind down on Saturday, Nov. 6, in true shit-kicking style: with Hooter Girls at the Buckin' Ball Dance.