Lee Butts plans to modernize Helldorado Days, an 80-year-old Las Vegas tradition, as its new executive director and production manager.
The Las Vegas Elks put in 10 months of work for the rodeo, midway and carnival that attract about 3,000 people daily. And this year, potential attendees will for the first time be able to buy Helldorado Days tickets online.
“We’re trying to venture out so we can capture more people online,” Butts said. “At least we’ll get a good count of what we’re selling and how many butts are sitting in that arena. We’ve never done that before.”
The 2014 event is scheduled May 14-18, downtown on Grand Central Parkway near The Smith Center.
Butts has been active with the Elks for years, serving on its board since 1994. For more than 20 years he was the Helldorado Days arena crew manager.
And it all started over beer.
While sitting at the Elks Lodge bar sipping a beer, Butts noticed a party going on around him. The lodge officers were hosting a fundraiser, something that interested him and inspired him to get more involved in the organization.
Butts, a consummate cowboy, was a competitive team roper and in his free time volunteered for cattle drives.
“When you get out in the middle of nowhere and that horse puts you on top of a mountain, wow,” Butts said.
Helldorado Days attracts a mix of locals and visitors, with a strong contingent of international tourists, including several Russians one year who arrived wearing pink cowboy hats, rimmed with fringe.
“They had such a ball in the rodeo beer tent,” Butts said. “It was just great.”
Butts’ rodeo is fast and furious, with entertainment acts running quick — an eight-minute show is a bit of a stretch.
“We don’t have any slack time,” Butts said.
It takes 12 guys and a $600,000 budget to put on the Helldorado Days rodeo. Any money made on the event goes back to the Elks Lodge charities, which support as many as 20 local organizations.
In April, Butts will take over as president of the Elks’ state organization. In that position, Butts will visit all 15 Nevada lodges and attend regional conventions. His goal for the state organization, similar to Helldorado Days, is to get all reports online this year.
“I want the state to be electronic everything,” Butts said. “It will be so much easier.”
Other changes for 2014 Helldorado Days: Expanded rodeo grounds behind The Smith Center, and have an additional rodeo day featuring Fiesta Del Charro, a traditional Mexican horseman event. The event is growing from 9 acres to 20.
“With the Fiesta del Charro, we’re hoping that’s going to open it up to a whole different group of people,” Butts said. “We know they like to party and we know they’re a very family-oriented group.”
Besides his Elks affiliation, Butts is a 10-year member and three-year president of the Red Riderz Motorcycle Club and has been riding motorcycles since he can remember.
Question: How did you get into working with horses?
Answer: I grew up in Ontario where there were a couple small dairies. I worked there in my teens and me and some of the guys, we’d ride the cows. Then we’d mess around and start throwing ropes around them. A friend of mine’s dad had a horse and we’d ride him all the time.
Question: When did you start riding Harleys?
Answer: I’ve always ridden a motorcycle. My first form of transportation was a motorcycle. But the horse is always my passion. A friend of mine and I have probably been on top of every mountain in this valley.
Question: How is taking the ticket operation online going?
Answer: It’s a lot. We’re working with TicketForce. It’s a full day of paperwork. Previously we sold in bulk. You could come here and pick them up or we had them at different venues in town like Western stores and boot barns. We’re hoping this will be better. As long as it stays in budget I’ll be happy.
Question: Is there a passion in this community for this event?
Answer: There is. We’ve had some of our sponsors forever, and that’s their passion. I was sitting down this week with Ahern (Rentals) going over the demographics … and they donate so much of the stuff to us, … we use so many generators and lights that we don’t have enough in the valley. They have to send them from Texas and North Carolina. We’re using about 17 generators.
Question: Who is the target demographic for the event?
Answer: Right now everybody. I think adding the Fiesta del Charro put us to everybody. Before, it was just Western people or Western heritage people or the curious. Some people walk in there and they have no clue. They’ve seen a horse on television or at the zoo or something like that but they don’t know what’s going on in there, so it’s an education program that we have to do.
Question:: Have you seen more of an interest in the event because of social media?
Answer: Slowly. This town has so many other venues going on when we’re going on. One year we looked out and there were 12 other events going on along with ours. So, pick and choose where you want to go. A lot of people don’t want to schedule something, because they’re waiting for something else.
Question: What’s the split between locals and tourists?
Answer: Seventy-five percent of the attendees are locals. We get a lot of tourists though. I just received a call from Germany. We get them from Denmark, Russia. We also know they’re walk-in tickets. Somebody’s coming from Australia and getting married over here. They want to come here on Saturday night.
Contact reporter Laura Carroll at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4588. Follow @lscvegas on Twitter.