LOVINGTON, N.M. – The Lea County Fair board is always looking for ways to make its event the best it can be.
It’s been home to a world-class rodeo for a long time, and it’s just getting better for this year’s event, set for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 10-Saturday, Aug. 13, at Jake McClure Arena. That includes the return of decorated rodeo entertainer John Harrison, who also will be part of the Lea County Xtreme Bulls event that begins at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 9.
“Not only his barrelman credentials, but he also has the ability to put on first-class specialty acts,” rodeo chairman Kenyon Burns said, noting that Harrison has twice worked the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. “He’s also been able to perform at the NFR as a trick rider, so he’s quite capable of doing a lot of things for our rodeo.
“He looks like a guy that interacts well with the crowd; he knows what he’s doing in the bull riding and and can put that and the specialty acts all together. That’s when I went to the rodeo committee and said, ‘I don’t think we need to have another specialty act; we have the best in the business coming in as our specialty act and our barrelman.”
Both aspects of Harrison’s persona are something he enjoys, and he takes great pride in having served as the NFR barrelman in 2013 and ’15.
“It’s an awesome feeling for me and my family because it’s a position that’s voted on by your peers,” said Harrison of Soper, Okla. “You feel it’s something you deserve. I’m tickled to death I got it. As a trick rider, I got to perform at the NFR three other times, but to be there every night and be part of the NFR personnel was just amazing.”
Over the last two years was recognized as the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s Comedy Act of the Year. In addition to hysterical acts that showcase Harrison’s talent and athleticism, the Oklahoma man serves as a valuable piece of the puzzle that helps make for a near-flawless performance each time he speaks.
“John is good, clean family fun,” said John Gwatney, the production supervisor for Pete Carr Pro Rodeo, the primary livestock producer for the rodeo. “It’s his rodeo background, because he grew up in this sport. For us, he helps us with the timing of our production. When you know what needs to be done and have someone that doesn’t have a big ego, then he’s willing to do work and willing to do that for the production.”
That’s the key reaching fans with a variety of entertaining items. Whether it’s a trick riding display that will leave fans in awe or his parody of rodeo queens, Harrison has a lot of ammunition in his bag.
“I do this for the love of the sport,” said Harrison, the grandson Freckles Brown, the 1962 world champion bull rider. “Growing up with it, you enjoy it. Now I can actually make a living at it, so that helps.”
It also is attractive for rodeo fans in southeastern New Mexico. Harrison returns to Lovington after having been part of the festivities in 2013.
“I looked up John’s credentials, and the first thing I see is he is the grandson of Freckles Brown,” Burns said. “I’m automatically in awe of the guy, and I’m sold on him for sure.”
While family is a big part of who Harrison is, he realizes that rodeo serves as a foster family of sorts.
“The friends and the ‘family’ you meet on the road is a big deal for us,” he said. “Plus if it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t do it.”