Can't Live Without My Rodeo

Rockin' and ropin' with Reese Thomas

You've been rocked by Queen at Pro Player Stadium; C&C Music Factory makes you sweat till you bleed at American Airlines Arena. But I'll bet a gold-plated belt buckle you've never listened to Nelly get hot in herre while a one-ton Black Angus did the Rockaway on a hapless cowboy. That's because you, sheltered hipster reader, have never been to the Davie Rodeo, and you have never heard Reese Thomas, rodeo DJ.

"Actually, it's not just a DJ thing," Thomas tells me over the phone from Sebring, Florida. "Only a little of my music is canned, mostly at bull rides. Usually, I try to do like a circus band would do, try to match the action to different music. Like a movie soundtrack, but I have to do it on the fly."

No one-trick pony, Thomas plays for a huge diversity of rodeo ring situations -- from high-speed trick riding to cattle roping to clown routines. Besides his dusty laptop full of MP3s, he relies on a guitar and a rack-mounted keyboard with bass pedals to kick out the jams.

Mark Poutenis
Christopher Smith

"There's the widest variety of music you could imagine in rodeo, from heavy metal to stone country, from bluegrass to ZZ Top. And again, this is me playing live," he explains. So, for Roman riding, which is "a cowboy on the back of two horses, one foot on each horse; he'll jump through hoops, drive two horses in front of him," Thomas offers. "Think of the film Ben Hur and that's the kind of music I put behind that."

Rodeo is more than a job for Thomas; it's a lifestyle. The 40-year-old musician rocks out 40 to 45 weekends a year at rodeos from Florida to Louisiana, typically two months straight. "That's what we call doing a run, when I'll schedule larger rodeos." Some of those bigger events bring in remarkably sizable crowds. "I've done 25,000 in a weekend," he boasts. "I figured it out: I've actually played for over 3 million people in my 20-year career, which is more than a lot of the rock 'n' roll guys get to do."

Essentially, Thomas is a one-man jukebox, half-live, half-canned, all rodeo, ready to rustle up the right mood at the drop of a Stetson. "It's almost like jamming with musicians, but I'm actually jamming with the event and the other talent -- the announcer, the clowns, the riders. They've all got a role, and I'm interacting with that. You've gotta have a lot of chops to work with when the moment comes." -- Jonathan Zwickel

Catch Reese Thomas at the 5 Star Championship Rodeo & Bull Riding Series at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 26, at the Davie Covered Arena, 4271 Davie Rd., Davie. Tickets cost $15 for adults, $8 for children. Call 954-680-3555, ext. 229.

Reese Thomas' Top 5 Rodeo Tracks

1) Eminem, "Lose Yourself." A great crowd builder.

2) Almost anything by AC/DC.

3) Any hair metal from the '80s. Wonderful for evoking emotion.

4) A lot of dance stuff, from "YMCA" to "The Locomotion" all the way down to "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" will always get the crowd dancing.

5) Hmm... It's hard to think of five without being there in the situation.

Sonic Surgery

So let me get this straight -- you want what kind of transplant? Oh, I see: You want to be the transplant. Sure, you and every other wild-eyed suburbanite who dreams of being in the music biz. New York City, huh? Isn't that where your family's from? As I recall, your father moved to South Florida for the weather; he had a pretty bad case of Seasonal Affective Disorder. But now I've got local musicians like you complaining of a similar condition concerning their dreary social climate -- Musical Affective Disorder. But before you start thinking that's what's wrong with you, lemme tell you about two successful transplants -- Pedro Mena and Steve Pestana, the notorious Shout! DJs -- and how they differ from pipe dreamers like you.

Originally from Coral Springs, the pair moved to NYC for college, pure and simple. This was in the mid-'90s, when Manhattan's indie-rock scene was just an ovum waiting to be penetrated. And penetrated it was, due in large part to the weekly Shout! Sunday nights at the 513 in Greenwich Village.

"When we first started doing shows up here, it was a really small scene," Mena recalls. "We had a concept and idea of what we wanted to do and found the perfect spot. We're celebrating our eighth anniversary there this April." That kind of longevity is something Floridians can buy only with a prescription. What's their secret to long-term health? "Any kind of dance music with guitar," Mena reveals, "all the way back to the '60s to today." That means Little Barrie and Black Sabbath, LCD Soundsystem, and the Sonics.

But here's the important part: This transplant is a two-way transfusion. Mena and Pestana have been making regular donations to South Florida's lifeblood, bringing their tag-team act to Miami's Design District and hooking up to the party support systems at Pop Life and Revolver. They'll give another shot in the arm to South Florida's rock scene this weekend. "The Winter Music Conference is the culmination of our efforts down here," Mena says. "We wanna help bands so they can make it without having to leave South Florida." See? Maybe you don't need this risky transplant after all.

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