GREELEY — Orange, pink and blue carnival tents sprawl across the Island Grove parking lot, country music echoes from the corners of the arena, and the blue and red chutes are ready to welcome the next round of bucking broncos.
It’s that time of year again.
Preparations for the Greeley Stampede, which kicked off Thursday, were well underway leading up to opening day as event workers in blue jeans and cowboy boots scurried from one end of the park to the other in golf carts and pickup trucks.
Organizers touted some new attractions, including the Vertigo, an 80-foot high ride in the carnival that swings riders in a circle; Marvelous Mutts, a show in which dogs do tricks; a sting ray tank where visitors can touch the friendly sea creatures; and a BMX bike show.
But for the most part, Stampede officials don’t plan to fix what is no longer broken.
Attendance and event sales were up last summer for the third year in a row, and the Stampede brought in new attractions and bigger names in the professional rodeo circuit, said Anthea Dreisbach, general manager for the Stampede.
This year, the buzz is building for all of the favorites — the rodeo, the carnival rides and games, the parade, the vendors, the food and the concerts — and organizers are focusing on the Stampede’s strong suits, Dreisbach said.
“It’s like 2.0,” she said. “We are kind of taking it up a notch.”
After drawing roughly 280,000 people to the Stampede last year, Dreisbach said she wouldn’t be surprised if, weather permitting, the event tops 300,000 this year.
The demolition derby, which Dreisbach said she expects to sell out, includes a motorhome class of destruction. About 600 cowboys and cowgirls are participating in the rodeo this year, and three contestants are returning to defend their titles. Tickets sales for American bullfighting, in which contestants dress up like clowns and dodge aggravated bulls, are up by threefold, organizers say.
The Stampede has garnered a great deal of interest from new vendors, including a company that sells mini whiskey barrels and a company that makes wooden sculptures with chainsaws right in front of their tent.
And the concert lineup — a ticket that includes the likes of Jake Owen, Three Days Grace, Martina McBride and Big & Rich — is the best it’s been in years, some Stampede-goers say.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we have two or three sell-out concerts,” Dreisbach said. “Everyone’s excited about something different.”
Kyle Holman, this year’s general chairman of the Stampede Committee, said organizers agreed to spend a little more on the concert lineup this year, now that the event has been three years in the black.
But Holman said he and other organizers are still cautious about their budget, after a crummy year in 2010 that forced major budget cuts to avoid financial failure.
“We kept those expenditures down and tried to really be the best at what we are,” he said. “Our biggest areas of growth are areas we already have — they just need to be expanded upon.”
Those include group sales, which are up because companies seem to have the dollars again to bring their employees out to the event, Holman said, and the Stampede’s sponsorship program, which is flourishing this year with support from local oil and gas companies and again indicates an improvement in the economy.
Organizers also received news earlier this year that the Stampede will be inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs this August — an honor that Dreisbach said highlights the community-oriented focus of the Stampede and its 91-year history.
Dreisbach said the Stampede is trying a few new promotions this year, including a special prize on Tough Enough to Wear Pink day on Monday, which goes toward providing mammograms to women in northern Colorado.
A handful of the attractions that were a recent success at the Stampede will also stick around, such as opening up Centennial Village during the event for activities such as the tomahawk throw, the Latino-themed day and gearing one of the concerts at the Stampede toward rock fans.
In fact, Holman said the Three Days Grace concert this year is the second-best seller out of all of the Stampede events so far.
Before he became chairman, Holman used to be in charge of the Stampede’s concert lineup, and he said the concerts continue to be his weakness.
“My goosebump moments are when a concert that I helped put on — when the artist comes out, and the crowd just goes nuts,” Holman said.