Cowtown Rodeo is open...are you ready to join us? Since 1955 Cowtown Rodeo has been the home to bucking bronc, rowdy bulls, roping cowboys and fast running cowgirls! Not much has changed over the years. If you've never enjoyed a live rodeo you really must take the trip to experience it first hand. Situated just about 30 minutes from Philadelphia Cowtown is located in rural South Jersey. A far cry from the opening credits from the Sopranos, this is where you'll see why New Jersey is called the Garden state. Cowtown Rodeo is the longest running weekly rodeo in the US. It has been owned and operated by the Harris family who has taken the responsibility of keeping this rodeo authentic. So if you're planning on visiting this icon here are a few pointers:
Plan Ahead & Stay a While
If you have to travel any distance consider logging in the area the night before or the night of the rodeo. This show is over at approximately 9:30pm and that drive home can be extra long. There are several hotels in the Beckett area as well as in the Pennsville area.
Watch the weather.
This arena is open-aired and it has only been cancelled one time in over 60 years for inclement weather. As they say, "It never rains at Cowtown." Unfortunately, it does rain, so plan ahead. An insider note: it is really fun to watch a sloppy wet rodeo- the rodeo clown is known to do belly flops in the arena.
Bring your own.
Cowtown Rodeo will allow you to bring in your own refreshments. All they ask is that the cooler is no larger than 12"x12" in size. Folks bringing in larger coolers will be asked to leave them by the fence. (No, we don't steal other people's beer!) Stop off at the local watering hole; the Corner Bar- another local icon, and get your coolers filled up.
Take your time.
Cowtown Flea Market is a fun daytime attraction that's located on the same grounds as the rodeo. It opens with the dawn light and winds down by 3pm. Here you'll find two long barns which house many unique vendors all selling different wares. On the outside areas you'll find more of a yard sale vibe. Throughout the market there are many different food vendors each with a different specialty. Insider tip: The Amish soft pretzels in the first barn are amazing! If you want to see where the livestock used in the rodeo spends the rest of their time simply drive East and turn left down King's highway. For the next several miles you'll see fields full of horses, bulls, and young calves. They live ideal lives in lush green pastures.
Tailgating is allowed.
Make sure you bring your lawn chairs, music, and speakers because it is completely fine to tailgate at Cowtown. It is super fun to turn the grass parking lot into a dance floor. The best place to park is to the left of the main entrance because it's closest to the arena. Oh, and parking is free!
Get your tickets early.
You can purchase your tickets online and simply show your receipt at the will call gate which is to the right of the ticket booth. You can also purchase your tickets at Cowtown Cowboy Outfitters which is right across the street. Groups larger than 20 can get a break on their price but you can only make that purchase at the main ticket booth. If you don't want to wait in line make sure you get your tickets before 6pm.
Inside the gates at Cowtown you should know that the food vendors do not take credit cards so bring enough cash so that you can enjoy the awesome food at Cowtown. While we're at it, don't miss the yummy barbecue sandwiches, mac and cheese, Bavarian nuts, funnel cakes, and more! You can use credit cards to purchase your tickets at all locations and the gift shop takes credit cards. The closest ATM off of the rodeo grounds is at the Wawa located at the intersection of Routes 40 and 45. There are two ATMs located on the grounds. One is at the front of the flea market barn and the other is at the end of the second flea market barn. They are within a 5-8 minute walk of the main entrance.
Bring a blanket.
The benches at Cowtown are not made for comfort. Your family might prefer siting on a blanket-covered bench rather right on the flat wood. A blanket can also be welcomed on early season nights when it gets chilly. There are nights when there are no more benches available and a blanket on the ground is your seat!
Bring your own hand wipes.
There is no running water on the grounds at Cowtown. There are port-a-pots that do have hand sanitizers but a nice hand wipe makes everyone a little happier.
Grab your seats early.
As soon as you arrive go set your blanket down on the benches. The best place to view is in the middle of the arena on either side, about halfway up from the bottom. This way you can see all of the action at either end of the rodeo.
Shop 'til you drop.
The gift shop at Cowtown Rodeo and Cowtown Cowboy Outfitters are the only places you can get your official Cowtown Rodeo merchandise. The gift shop opens at 6pm and closes after the rodeo ends and all the fans have left. Cowtown Cowboy Outfitters, or "The Outfitters," as it's called by locals, is open 7 days a week, and is open 9am until 11pm on rodeo nights. You can walk there from the arena. It is about a 10 minute walk.
Grab a program.
There are "day sheets" available on the telephone pole as you enter. This is as close to a program as you'll get. This is a listing of all of the contestants and the mounts they've drawn. Regulars will keep track of times and scores and write them down after each ride.
Get a photo.
There are a lot of great photo ops at Cowtown. Outside the gates you must get a photo of the gigantic cowboy standing guard just West of the main entrance. The iconic red cow on the right side of the main entrance is also a must see. On the inside make sure you get a photo with your group in front of the gigantic boot just as you walk in.
Plan for hills.
This arena is built into a hill so you have to walk up to the top of a hill and then back down to your selected seats. Some areas are really steep so if you have someone in your group in a wheelchair be prepared.
It gets loud.
During the rodeo there is loud music that may be upsetting to sensitive ears. If you have someone in your group who doesn't like loud noises bring ear protection so that he/she isn't upset.
Hot roasted Cowtown peanuts are a staple. Grab a bag or two from the little red barn on your left as you enter. Eat them like a local; just toss those shells on the ground as you enjoy them! Peanut allergy? Unfortunately there are no peanut free areas so keep that in mind before you come in.
Get a Lasso.
There's a cool trick lasso sold only at the rodeo. You can't get it anywhere else! This is a trick lasso that takes a little bit of work to get it going but once you got it, you GOT it! Make sure you get one early because these sell out frequently.
Understand the Events
There are 8 events during the rodeo. There are timed events such as steer wrestling, calf roping, team roping, and barrel racing. The person with the quickest time is the winner. Bull riding, saddle bronc riding, and bareback riding are scored events; the rider gets up to 50 points and the animal gets up to 50 points for how well it bucks. The rider only gets a score if he/she stays on for 8 seconds.
But wait there's more!
On the back of your day sheet is a list of competitors who may not have made it into the program. This is called "slack." The rodeo is on a tight schedule and there are contestants who will compete after the song "Happy Trails" is played. As soon as most of the fans have left and the arena is smoothed out by John Deere the action starts over. There are usually extra competitors in the roping events and barrel racing. A fun fact is that the person with the best time during the rodeo may not actually win that event. If you're able to stay you may actually see even better times! The main difference is it is decidedly low key. The music is gone, the announcer sounds like he's been deflated, and there are far fewer fans so it is a lot quieter.
So if you're thinking of taking the trip to experience Cowtown Rodeo first hand make sure you follow these pointers! It's well worth it to enjoy a piece of the old West right here in "rural"