|SNAKES ALIVE AND FRIED!|
When folks hear a rattlesnake in full sing, they run like scared rabbits. That being so, why is it that more than 20,000 folks flock to Opp each spring for the annual RattleSnake Rodeo?
Is it the thrill of cheering on one’s favorite rattler in the rattlesnake race? Is it the yearning and hankering for a platter of fried rattlesnake?
Wesley Laird chuckled when he answered that question. "There is a lot of interest in rattlesnakes and we have very informative demonstrations," the city’s economic development director said. "We have demonstrations on safety and how snakes are milked for their venom which is used as an antidote. And, of course, we have fried rattlesnake and we always run out of that.
"But you can come to the RattleSnake Rodeo and never see a snake. Although the fascination that people have with snakes is definitely a draw, the RattleSnake Rodeo is about more than rattlesnakes. It’s all about family fun. The rodeo is family-friendly and has something for the entire family, for people of all ages and interests."
The Rattlesnake Rodeo was the brainchild of the late J.P. Jones, who was able to convince a group of other Opp citizens that people would come out of the woodworks for an opportunity to keep safe company with rattlesnakes. That was in 1959 and the Rattlesnake Rodeo has grown into one of the most popular festivals in the state.
This year, the 46th Annual City of Opp RattleSnake Rodeo is dedicated to the memory of its founder, J.P. Jones, and it is expected to be the biggest ever. The RattleSnake Rodeo will take place on April 1 and 2 at Channell-Lee Stadium in Opp and will feature rattlesnakes by the barrels, arts and crafts booths, food vendors, children’s activities and some of the best entertainment anywhere around.
This year’s entertainment is headlined by county music star, Joe Nichols, who hit the
country music charts several years ago with "Broken Heartsville," and his popularity hasn’t waned. He is one of the most popular talents to come out of Nashville in recent years. Nichols will take the RattleSnake Rodeo stage at 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 1. Opening for Nichols at 6 p.m. will be 2nd Wind, a southern rock/country band from Mobile. Kelsey, an up-and-coming country singer from Dalton, Ga. will perform at 7 p.m. General admission tickets for the Rattle-Snake Rodeo are $5 at the gate. Children 6 years and under admitted free.
"This is the first year that the RattleSnake Rodeo has offered a VIP ticket for all musical performances," Laird said. "The VIP tickets are $20 and ticket holders will be seated closest to the stage and are guaranteed to see the concerts inside if it rains. The VIP tickets are rain or shine tickets."
The outstanding entertainment will continue on Sunday, April 2, with contemporary Christian and gospel concerts throughout the day. An encore presentation by 2nd Wind will be at 2 p.m. followed at 3 p.m. by Rockie Lynne, a newcomer to the country scene whose debut song climbed quickly to number 31 on the country music charts in February.
Although the RattleSnake Rodeo is primarily a huge two-day community event, the rodeo actually gets underway as early as February with the RattleSnake Songwriter’s Workshop and 2nd Annual Songwriter’s Festival. Laird said the Songwriter’s Festival brings together both professional and amateur songwriters from all across the Southeast. The festival gives songwriters a stage for honing their skills and performing their songs. The songwriters will have an opportunity to perform at the RattleSnake Rodeo before appreciative audiences.
In 1965, the first Opp RattleSnake Rodeo Beauty Pageant was held with contestants from Alabama, Florida and Georgia competing for the titles. The tradition continues with RattleSnake Rodeo beauty pageants for girls ages 6 through 20 in early March. The queens will reign over the RattleSnake Rodeo festivities on "rattlesnake" weekend, April 1 and 2.
The Opp Rattlesnake Rodeo Karaoke Contest is back by popular demand. The preliminary contests were held in February and the finals on March 5. The contest is sponsored by The Four Sons Club. The Junior Karaoke Contest for ages 13-20 will be held at 3 p.m. on March 12 at The Four Sons Club. The winners in both divisions will perform at the RattleSnake Rodeo on April 2.
With all that activity going on around Opp, it’s a thousand wonders that any snakes would rattle around the city. And, actually, they don’t. "We have snake hunters who supply the snakes for the demonstrations and the races," Laird said. "And, we do buy some snakes. But, like I said, you can come to the RattleSnake Rodeo and never see a snake."
And, it’s also possible to come and never get to try the tasty delicacy, fried rattlesnake. So, rodeo participants are encouraged to get in line early or they might be disappointed to see the "Sold Out" sign on the fried rattlesnake wagon. Ben Courson, manager of Opp’s Co-op, is not going to let that happen. He comes around early when there are snakes sizzlin’ in the pan.
Opp’s Co-op helps the rodeo committee get ready for the rodeo by furnishing the posts, gates and wire needed to "beef up" security at the concerts. "We help out with things that the rodeo needs to section off the staging area," he said. "We like to do what we can. The RattleSnake Rodeo is a big event for Opp. It brings in a lot of people and a lot of businesses benefit. I really enjoy the rodeo and so do a lot of other people." Courson didn’t say so, but it’s safe to say that he also likes being around in the early "stages" of the rodeo – before the fried rattlesnake sells out.
Jaine Treadwell is a freelance writer from Brundidge.