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Spinning the tunes

Rodeo sound man part of fans' experience at Buffalo Bill Rodeo

By Ruth Nicolaus
for the Buffalo Bill Rodeo

NORTH PLATTE, Neb. — His work is always heard at a rodeo, but the man behind the music is rarely seen.

From rock and roll to country, from zydeco to techno beat, Benje Bendele works his magic in the sound booth at the Buffalo Bill Rodeo in North Platte, Neb.

A more than 25-year-veteran of the rodeo industry, Bendele, from Dublin, Texas, has been making fans tap their toes to the tunes for years.



He started as a tie-down roper and bull rider, but competing didn’t pay the bills, although it was fun.

He wanted to stay in the industry, so he began announcing, with his wife at the time doing the music, using cassette tapes, which was the latest technology in the 1990s.



Bendele bought a computer and a sound system, providing it for rodeos that didn’t have good sound systems. Committees began calling and asking for Bendele to bring his sound system and music to their rodeos.

Then he got hired to work the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the biggest stage in the rodeo world.

He was the first to be what is now called a “music director,” playing snippets of popular songs and using sound effects at a rodeo. Prior to then, some rodeos were using live bands.

At the National Finals Rodeo, his work was heard by rodeo committees from all over the nation, and Bendele’s phone began ringing.

THE BIG SWITCH

His focus switched from announcing to being a music director, and he’s been in high demand ever since.

He’s worked the most prestigious rodeos on the continent: Rodeo Houston, the Calgary (Alberta) Stampede, the Buffalo Bill Rodeo, and he’s been the only music director to ever work the National Finals Rodeo.

He’s the “invisible” accompaniment to the announcer, the clown and the specialty act, providing the tunes and sound effects that pair with what’s going on in the arena.

Rodeo music isn’t all country, Bendele points out. He plays plenty of rock and roll and stays on top of what is currently popular. “I play all genres,” he said, including techno beat.

He takes his cues from the crowd.

“I can see if they’re tapping their toes, playing with their kids to the beat of the music. If they’re digging it, I’ll keep it going. If they’re not digging it, I’ll play something else.”

He also plays music that matches a cowboy’s ethnicity or home. For example, while a Louisiana or Brazilian cowboy competes, he might play Cajun or Tejano music.

It keeps him on the road 45 weekends a year, putting 30,000-40,000 miles on his motorhome, which he lives in while on the road.

REWARDING WORK

It’s a rewarding occupation, Bendele said. “It’s making people enjoy a rodeo, whether they’re a long-time fan or a first-time rodeo spectator.

“I want the people leaving the rodeo to say, ‘I really enjoyed that.’ Not specifically the music, but feeling the whole experience of it.

“I’m a piece of the entertainment pie at my rodeos. I want to be part of the experience.”

The annual Buffalo Bill Rodeo, held in North Platte, will run June 16-19 with performances starting at 8 p.m. each night. The rodeo is an inductee into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame.

Tickets range from $7 for children to $20 for adults and can be purchased online at NebraskalandDays.com, at the ticket office at the Wild West Arena (2801 Charlie Evans Drive), and at the gate.

For more information, visit the website or call the office at (308) 532-7939.


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