The Days of ’47 Cowboy Games and Rodeo will, for the first time, have a wine garden and beer vault — an unexpected pairing for a Mormon-linked event.
“Our event is housed on state property,” explained Tommy Joe Lucia, the rodeo’s general manager, “and [under the concession contract] it has to have the same options that the arena offers to other public events.”
The rodeo moved last year to its new $17.5 million, 10,000-seat arena inside the Utah State Fairpark, 155 N. 1000 West, Salt Lake City. In previous years, it was an indoor event at what is now the Vivint Smart Home Arena.
Thursday through July 24 — except Sunday — the Fairpark arena will showcase some of the best cowboys in the country competing for gold, silver and bronze medals in eight primary events, all with a $1 million payout.
Each day from 4 to 8 p.m. — when the rodeo begins — families can spend time in the free Frontier Fun Zone with games, food booths, a petting zoo and exhibits that showcase the history of the Utah pioneers as well as American Indians and mountain men.
A covered pavilion near the country music stage is where guests, 21 and older, can buy wine and beer, Lucia said.
As at most festivals and fairs, patrons won’t be allowed to take their drinks outside the pavilion. Those who want to take a beer to their seats in the arena will have to purchase it at a separate stand. Beer was available in the arena last year.
Days of ’47 Cowboy Games and Rodeo is independent of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is separate from the Days of ’47 Parade — for which Mormon congregations often are assigned to provide floats. The rodeo has its own budget and board of directors, Lucia said, "so the church doesn’t necessarily endorse [alcohol sales].”
He noted that patrons have requested the alcohol offerings. “We’re still maintaining the heritage and history and legacy of the Days of ’47,” Lucia said, "while giving those who choose to have a drink a chance to do so.”
The pioneers — who 171 years ago trekked to the Salt Lake Valley in hopes of finding religious freedom — would likely not think twice about the new offering.
Mormons are believed to have opened the first documented brewery — called Beach and Blair — in Salt Lake City sometime between 1850 and 1852, according to “Beer in the Beehive: A History of Brewing in Utah.”
Even the notorious Orrin Porter Rockwell, bodyguard to early Mormon leaders Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, saw beer as an economic opportunity. In 1858, he purchased land for a brewery in what is now Bluffdale. His Hot Springs Hotel and Brewery sat on land now occupied by the Utah State Prison.
Some pioneers smoked cigarettes or chewed tobacco. Wine was used in the church’s sacrament, or communion, until the turn of the 20th century. LDS authorities routinely drank it, sold it, served it. Coffee and tea were common.
By the 1930s, though, LDS leaders moved to make the prohibitions against the use of alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea — enshrined in the faith’s health code called the Word of Wisdom — mandatory for faithful members. Today, such abstinence has become a hallmark of Mormonism.
LDS tenets always have had a heavy influence on Days of ’47 activities. For example, if the July 24 holiday falls on a Sunday, the parade is held on a different day; the rodeo is never held the Sabbath; and no beer or wine would ever be sold along the parade route, thanks to the state’s strict liquor laws.
Mormon ties have even stirred controversy for the Days of ’47, such as in the 1990s, when the Budweiser Clydesdales first took part in the parade.
The iconic horses drew applause along the parade route, and wine drinkers may offer their own silent cheers to the alcohol offerings at this year’s rodeo.