Monday, May 11, 2015
MontanaFair Bans Cowboy Hats
Just months after neighboring state Wyoming’s change in its dress code for highway patrol officers, prohibiting troopers from wearing cowboy hats and cowboy boots while on duty, a popular annual event in Montana is banning cowboy hats. Citing safety concerns, MontanaFair board members in Billings last week voted 3-2 to prohibit the wearing of the traditional western headgear by fairgoers, participants, vendors, and employees. Other types of close-fitting hats, such as ball caps, will not be restricted.
Board President Melissa Walton-Howell is among the majority of trustees who agreed that the hats present a security risk. “While this may be, you know, a popular style around here, we think the risks outweigh tradition,” said Walton-Howell. “This is the region’s largest fair, and we just want to keep it safe and family friendly. Certain types of headgear, especially cowboy hats, can allow for the smuggling of contraband, such as alcohol, or even handguns and explosive devices, and you can’t be too careful these days.” She joked, “They don’t call them ten-gallon hats for nothing!”
When asked if there have ever been problems with the hats during previous fairs, Walton-Howell said that in her recollection there hadn’t, but there’s always a first time. She says, “Why take the risk? After 9-11, airports stepped up their security, including pat-downs and body scanners. Who will get the blame if some drunken cowboy decides to set off a grenade and blow his head off, terrorizing a bunch of kids at the sheep pavilion? I will, that’s who!” The board president didn’t rule out applying for federal funding for body scanners at the 8-day event, which attracts nearly a quarter of a million visitors annually.
All cowboy hat wearers will be turned away and asked to secure their headgear in a locked vehicle. Alternatively, wearers can anonymously deposit their illicit lids in a secure bin near the entrance. The hats will later be sold at auction. Walton-Howell says all proceeds will benefit the nonprofit “Tunnels for Toddlers,” funded through the Clinton Foundation, supporting work programs for oppressed Gaza Strip youth.
Signs alerting fairgoers of the new requirement will be posted throughout the MetraPark area prior to the event, which runs August 7-15. The cost of implementing the regulation will raise ticket prices, previously $8.00 for adults, to $72.99, but fair officials say the new signage, installed by National Kickbackers Union workers, doesn’t come cheap.
As one may imagine, not everybody is happy about the new rule at the agricultural celebration held in the heart of Big Sky country, featuring many western-themed events, including the Yellowstone River Roundup PRCA Rodeo, which takes place during the final three days of the fair, and is not exempt. Cowboy hats are a ubiquitous part of the standard attire for both rodeo attendees and participants. In fact, many rodeos require riders to wear them.
Montana Pro Rodeo Executive Vice President Hal Varney says, “I thought I’d seen everything — animal rights protesters and all — but this takes the cake.” Varney says his organization is challenging the new regulation, and they, along with local rodeo supporters, western wear outlets, and fans of Pharrell Williams, who had been scheduled to perform at the fair, have threatened to boycott the event — but the theme of the protest, “Don't Hang Your Hat, Hang the Unfair Fair Board,” isn’t sitting well with fair officials.
The board has refused to back down, however. Walton-Howell insists that the rule is entirely for safety reasons, and suggests that if rodeo organizers are also concerned with safety, perhaps they should consider even more restrictive measures for participants, such as requiring the use of helmets.
When told of her proposal, Varney said, “So, we’re taking safety advice from Baltimore now?”
Walton-Howell was unavailable to answer questions concerning whether the board’s decision was influenced by a recent survey indicating that cowboy hat wearers in western states are overwhelmingly opposed to excessive federal government-imposed regulation in areas such as states’ rights, second-amendment issues, illegal immigration, school testing, and children’s nutrition. Her most recent voicemail greeting mentions that she is away from her office, traveling to Aspen, Colorado to attend a rally for First Lady Michelle Obama’s latest initiative titled, “Oil Is for Salad, Not for Energy.”
[Note: this is satire. The entire content — except for the fact that the Wyoming Highway Patrol has changed its dress code, and that MontanaFair is an actual event featuring the PRCA rodeo — is fictional.]