The Santa Maria Elks Rodeo, nearly 80 years old, had its best year in 2019 before canceling in 2020 and hosting a modified event in September of last year.
“It's not 79 years old for no reason, right?” said Matt Merritt, an entertainer and rodeo clown performing at the Elks Rodeo.
Thousands of spectators spaced out over more than 100 acres of land, 500-plus volunteers, and one bucking good time, the Santa Maria Elks Rodeo is back to business as usual. Breaking a record for attendance with roughly 35,000 people attended in 2019, the rodeo is expecting more big things in 2022.
“The rodeo has really been on a comeback since 2013. We’ve been on this path to be one of the fastest growing rodeos in the nation,” said Johnna McGuire, the media director for the Elks Rodeo. “It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but there are 630 rodeos in the PRCA, and we are in that top tier.”
The economic impact of the rodeo is extensive for the surrounding area; hotels see a boost in bookings, restaurants have an influx of customers, and shops see fresh faces walking through their doors. On top of all the entertainment, the PRCA, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, competition is no laughing matter.
“This rodeo is so big. It all culminates in Las Vegas for the National Finals Rodeo where these athletes that are competing in Santa Maria can become millionaires,” said Merritt. “It’s life-changing stuff that happens beginning at Santa Maria for these people.”
“It's more than just a rodeo,” said Anthony Lucia, a broadcaster for the PRCA. “This has become a destination. When you can bring your entire family, your family, your friends, it doesn't matter what age you are, there's going to be something for you.”
For those of you thinking you wouldn’t enjoy the rodeo, McGuire has a message for you.
“When I came in 2013, I said, ‘Tina (Tonascia), I've never been to a rodeo, and I actually have no desire to go to a rodeo.’ If you think you're not a rodeo fan, think again. You will laugh, you may cry a little bit; it is an experience. And you just have to try it, try it once, and guess what? You're gonna be a rodeo fan,” said McGuire with a smile.
Presale tickets are sold out for Friday and Saturday, but tickets at the gate are available. Adults are $25 and children (3-12) and seniors (62+) are $17.