Rodeo Austin canceled over coronavirus concerns


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Rodeo Austin announced on Thursday that at the direction of City of Austin and Travis County officials, its 2020 events would be canceled.

Rodeo Austin said in its letter:

“Canceling our event is extremely difficult for fans, volunteers, exhibitors, rodeo athletes, donors, contractors and everyone involved. Since 1938, Rodeo Austin has been a mission with a rodeo that has brought heritage and entertainment to our community while raising millions for Texas kids.”

Willie Nelson’s Luck Reunion also sent out a letter on Thursday to announced its Luck Reunion was also canceled.

The events were set to be discussed at a special voting session of the Commissioners Court Tuesday afternoon, but an abrupt end to the meeting left even several Commissioners looking confused.

Just two days earlier, both events were given the “OK” to move forward based on the guidelines laid out by the county and the city of Austin.

“That was valid then, but with each passing day we reassess,” Acting Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said. “At this point, we do believe that certainly over the next few weeks we will see a person to person transmission.”

Ultimately, the county announced the cancellations had been finalized.

Eckhardt said the Rodeo organizers came to the county asking what the likelihood of a cancellation was. After several calls with local and state leaders, it was determined that the event was a risk.

Eckhardt, along with Mayor Adler released a statement regarding COVID-19 preparedness for mass gatherings, saying, in part:

“While we do not currently have any confirmed cases of person-to-person transmission in the Austin MSA, it is likely to occur soon. When we have evidence of community spread, it will be necessary to cancel mass gatherings and large events. We have therefore notified organizers of events calendared in the next two weeks in the unincorporated areas of Travis County and county facilities of likely cancellation.”

Eckhardt and Adler included that Rodeo Austin and Luck Reunion fully cooperated with discussions.

So far, the permitting process has not changed for smaller events with fewer than 2,500 people, but Eckhardt said events are really being evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

“We are sending out information to our smaller gatherings that occur in the parks to let them know what they safety concerns are,” Eckhardt said. “At this point we are not looking at smaller events because we believe that for the smaller events they can achieve social distancing.”

She said that’s having people roughly four to six feet apart.

Impact and losses

Eckhardt said she didn’t have an estimate from Rodeo Austin on the impact the cancellation will have on the money they donate to scholarships.

“It’s without doubt this will… make a huge dent, huge negative dent in their ability to provide scholarships to young Texans going to Texas colleges,” she said.

She went on to say the impact to the entire local economy will take a hit.

“We will be an COVID-19-precipitated economic correction that’s faster and probably deeper than we anticipated,” Eckhardt said.

Texas County band Flatland Calvary was set to play at Rodeo Austin next week.

It’s one of their biggest shows this year, and would have been their first time playing at a rodeo of this size.

“You hope for the best, but you expect the worst outcome to be it gets canceled,” singer Cleto Cordero said.

Guitarist Reid Dillon agreed, saying they almost expected it.

At this point, they band said it will be tough to book a replacement show.

“Getting people gathered together at this sensitive time is just… what are we going to do, you know?” Cordero said. “A lot of the music and entertainment industry is taking a hit,” Cordero said.

Drummer Jason Albers added, “They rely on live music for the main source of income.”

The band members each agreed, though, the health and safety of people at the shows is the most important thing, so they’re relying on leaders and organizers to make the right call.

“I’m sure they’ve assessed all the risk, and they know their stuff, so we can only trust what they say,” Albers said.

Flatland Calvary said they’ll have to get creative.

“I guess it’s back to busking, on the street,” Cordero said with a laugh.

Oh, and they’re reminding fans to still wash their hands.

“But just because you can’t shake someone’s hand, doesn’t mean you can’t smile at them and wish them a good day. Don’t let fear kind of overcome you,” Cordero said.

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