The stalls and stockyards at the National Western Center are historically quiet for the days ahead, when it's normally jumping like a bucking bronco.
Among the casualties of COVID-19 is a piece of Colorado's most prominent agricultural tradition, the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo — 16 days, more or less, at the same location in north Denver since 1906.
The 115th stock show will be online instead of in the mud, in the rodeo arenas, and in the acres of shopping for Western goods and treats.
Pre-taped programs will air on the National Western's website through Jan. 24, the normal run of the show.
Many are hosted by show benefactor, noted politico and beer magnate Pete Coors, who will provide a special address on the National Western's Legacy Capital Campaign available starting Monday at 9 a.m. An announcement of a special gift to the Honoring the Legacy Fund is expected on Jan. 15.
This year, however, no mutton will be busted, no bulls will be ridden and the dancing horses won't dance.
Such festivities normally would have started today and pulled in 700,000 customers. It raises millions to fund scholarships for kids in Wyoming and Colorado who study agriculture and veterinary medicine who are willing to serve rural areas with their practice.
The show has provided more than $13 million to more than 3,000 students since the scholarship trust started in 1983.
Organizers hope to still fund 100 scholarships this year.
The curtain has fallen on the 100-acre hillside only once before, in 1915, for an epidemic-level outbreak of hoof and mouth disease in livestock. This time, of course, it's people at risk and putting vendors and sponsors in limbo waiting on an answer.
The loss is immeasurable to those who love it and look forward to to commiserating with rodeo queens, traveling salesmen, cowboys, field hands and millionaires.
“It’s about 10 times harder not to put on the National Western Stock Show than it is to put it on,” said Paul Andrews, the stock show's president and CEO, who hails from a ranching family with close ties to the show going back generations.
“It’s hard on you mentally. We’ve got a lot of depressed people. This is what we do; this is what we live for.”
The show's battalion of volunteers and boards salvaged as much as they could without attracting crowds.
Friday, as Andrews chatted on the phone he described the cavernous auction arena, where last year's Catch a Calf kids were bringing their animals back for judging — wearing masks, marching their calves into a silent hall, as socially distanced as the show could ensure.
Normally the activity would look like backstage at a Denver arts production, but not this year. They were lucky to get what they got on Friday.
The show is really about the next generation to keep the Western spirit and the industry to crops and livestock alive, Andrews said, so it just wasn't possible to tell those kids who've fed and groomed those animals for a year, effectively, "tough luck."
Other auctions have been nixed, costing kids from all over the West, Wisconsin to Southern California, the chance to bring their show animals to the largest stage they'll see. The Grand Champion steer won't be posed for pictures in the lobby of the Brown Palace, as it would in normal years.
The association that runs the nonprofit fundraiser, though, announced in September that the risk and uncertainty was too great this year and put Denver's biggest show on ice.
The Western Art Show is taking place online, and the response has been great, Andrews said.
The show this year is losing about 90% of its various revenue streams, but that’s just the beginning for the National Western Center, home to more than 200 other shows that would lease facilities throughout the rest of the year.
Andrews said the show got a little money in the last stimulus, but they hope to get some yet-undetermined amount from next one.
“We’re 20-plus-million dollars in the hole March to March, basically,” he said.
The people behind the nonprofit, educational stock show also hope to go the legislature for some help, given all that the show does for the state’s farmers and ranchers, as well as its direct economic impact on metro Denver each January.
“We kick off $120 million a year in economic impact and have for decades, but we need a little bit here to help us,” he said.
Donors are important to the millions of dollars that’s needed for the next however-many months.