story by Lily Weinacht Brad Bates started riding bucking horses on a bet with his roping partner. In high school at the time, the pair […]
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Rodeo Spotlight Tri-State Finals
story by Siri Stevens
The Tri State Finals will be celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, and for the first time in almost 40 years, they are having the finals at the Washington Parish Fair, the Worlds Largest free fair. “It’s the biggest free fair in the world,” said Robbie Thomas of the event that always starts the third Wednesday in October. “We play host to 450,000 people in four days. And we only have one 12 room motel in the whole town.” There is a single camping ground, which has a 200 name waiting list. People camp wherever they can find a place.
Robbie has been involved with Tri State Rodeo Association for more than 30 years; serving as a former vice president, and one term as president, announcer (35 years), and part owner of a rodeo company, TNT Rodeo Company. “We produce several of the TriState Rodeos.” He has been on the Washington Parish Free Fair rodeo committee since 1976, and is the oldest one on the committee and serves as the chair. Robbie has lived thin Washington Parish his whole life. “I have a horse rental in the Bogue Chitto State Park, and I announce, and I produce about 8 rodeos a year.” He is married to Deb, and they have son, Dusty, who also announces and does rodeo promotions.
“We kick everything off with the traditional parade,” he said. “We will have well over 300 entries in the parade. The rodeo used to be a PRCA rodeo, but since their cutoff for the WNFR comes before the event, they had trouble getting cowboys. “Most of our contract acts are still from PRCA; we have a bull fighting competition every night; there’s something going on every night and all day for four days.”
The move to hosting the TriState Finals is a perfect fit for the committee. “TriState was born in this area – a lot of the founding fathers were from this parish or around here. Now they are three states, with some cowboys coming from other states to compete.”
Along with boasting the largest midway in the South, fair goers can take a look into the past. “We took all the old buildings that were built in the 1880s and put them into a village called Mile Branch, and they make sassafras tea, soap, it’s like stepping back into the early 1900s. There are two stages, and the Gatlin brothers are just one of the groups coming this year, at no charge to the public. And of course we are Louisiana, so there are all types of foods – white beans and shrimp, alligator sausage, and other things you don’t see anywhere else.”
There are 45 different committees that produce the event. “Each committee handles things from hospitality to lost and found and we meet once a month to plan the fair. All proceeds go to improving the facility and grounds. “We had tremendous floods this year, and it cost almost quarter of a million to repair that, including a bridge that connects one side of the fair to the other.”
All the schools and businesses shut down for the entire week in the parish and surrounding parishes. “It’s a hoot n