By MICHAEL RODRIGUEZ
MERCEDES — Festivities kicking off the 78th annual Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show and Rodeo are plentiful as more than 600 volunteers and 3,000 exhibitors prepare for what many argue is the biggest event south of San Antonio.
Getting things started will be norteño outfit Intocable and country music singer Randy Houser, whose performances are respectively scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday evenings inside the rodeo arena, located within the show grounds at 1000 N. Texas Ave. in Mercedes.
Youth festivities are once again in abundance this year with a new kids corral to debut on Friday. That’s where the kids celebration event will be held, along with other festivities designed for youngsters.
Also new to the show — other than its run extending to 11 days, from March 9-19 — is the paving of a new asphalt parking lot accommodating 3,300 striped spaces within 26 acres, not to mention shuttles that will now transport attendees to drop-off stations.
“It’s an exciting time for the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show,” Mike Risica, president of the show’s Board of Directors, said on Monday. “We’ve got a $2.5 million paved parking lot for the public so we don’t have to worry about if it rains or if there’s mud. So that’s an exciting deal.”
On tap Saturday is the stock show parade in Mercedes, which serves as the official kickoff to the event. Planned for 10 a.m., the procession will be held downtown Texas Avenue before leading into the show grounds.
Judging events for the market rabbits, lambs, goats, hogs and steers will begin Tuesday and run throughout the course of next week before the Sale of Champions on Saturday, March 18.
Last year’s sale generated more than $1.6 million in scholarships and awards for participating youth. RGVLS General Manager D.J. Wernecke has said that the goal this year is to raise as much as $2 million.
“We have 3,000 exhibitors coming to show their livestock — that’s hogs, cattle, chickens and rabbits — and the horticulture and shop projects,” Risica added. “It really has become the Valley’s event. We have anywhere from 250,000 to 300,000 people who come through the gates every year. So the Valley really supports the stock show and we’re excited.”
In addition, the PRCA Xtreme Bull Riding event is slated for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 15, with rodeos to follow throughout the course of that week, including “Cowboys Kickin’ Cancer.”
What’s more, Risica said the show produces more than $125,000 in “free entertainment,” including music at the beer garden, dog jumping and chainsaw acts, with the purchase of a $10 ticket. Parking costs are also $10.
“They’ll be able to see all that at the stock show,” Risica said. “You could spend all day and all night and you probably won’t be able to see it all.”