This year's Black Hills Stock Show & Rodeo has all the dirt.
Red Dirt, that is.
Kadee Hande, marketing manager for the stock show, said the musical entertainment will be a highlight of this year's event, which runs from Jan. 26 to Feb. 4 at the Central States Fairgrounds in Rapid City.
This year's musical acts favor "Red Dirt" country music, a sub-genre closely associated with "Texas Country."
Named for the color of the soil in Stillwater, Okla., where it largely got its start, Red Dirt's influences range from rock, blues, traditional country and folk music. But regardless of style or location, one factor in the genre remains consistent — a general disdain for the Nashville establishment, and desire to buck the system. (Similar, but not precisely the same, as the Outlaw Country music made famous by country legends like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Merle Haggard.)
Hande said the stock show started sifting Red Dirt country music into the mix a few years ago, and it was a hit. Though still centered in its Texas and Oklahoma roots, Red Dirt music tends to be popular in rural areas all across the country, Hande said. It also appeals to a younger generation of farm and ranch folks, which is something the stock show organizers wanted.
"That Red Dirt country is such a huge genre within rural South Dakota," Hande said. "A lot of people come to the stock show from rural areas, therefore, in order to attract younger generation, we need to appeal to the music that they listen to when they’re out working cattle and out on the ranch," Hande said.
It's something stock show organizers are keeping a close eye on: how to appeal to a younger crowd, as the average age of the stock show's biggest attendees — farmers and ranchers — in South Dakota slowly ticks higher (it was 57 in 2017, according to the South Dakota Department of Agriculture).
"To continue on with the longevity of the stock show, we have to look at how we’re going to appeal to the next generation," Hande said.
Entertainment is a key part of that, she said. The stock show still offers the same landmark events that launched it 60 years ago, but there will also be plenty of entertaining options throughout the 10-day event's duration.
And there will be music.
"We have realized that we have a lot of people coming to town, and they always like good entertainment," Hande said. "We always are plugging in music here and there."
It's all "good cowboy music," she noted, adding that it provides a prime opportunity to show off local and regional artists.
This year, that includes Brandon Jones, Layla with Twenty One 20, Zeona Road, Ruthless West, Jacob Johnson and Trucker Radio — all of whom are based in the Black Hills.
"We believe that Rapid City and the surrounding area has great artists," Hande said.
Main concert headliner Aaron Watson will perform at 7 p.m. on Feb. 2 at the James Kjerstand Events Center at the Central States Fairgrounds, with Rapid City-based Brandon Jones and Spearfish-based Jacob Johnson as opening acts. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 the day of the show, and are available online or at the fair office.
"This guy just rocks," Hande said.
Watson, a West Texas-based musician, has remained an independent singer/songwriter despite the success he has enjoyed in recent years, including his 2015 album "The Underdog" debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard Country Chart. Watson's latest album, "Vaquero," debuted at No. 2, with the single "Outta Style" peaking at No. 24 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and at No. 10 on Country Airplay.
He has a sound, and a spirit, that appeal to the stock show crowd, Hande said, which encompasses rural South Dakota and beyond. Artists like Watson don't just sing country songs, she said, they are country.
"When somebody sings about riding a horse, they want to make sure that the guy has actually rode a horse," Hande said of the typical stock show crowd. (For the record, Watson has.)
Brandon Jones described Watson as "the king of Texas Red Dirt Country," and praised the independent artist's recording chops.
"I really dig his music. He’s got a phenomenal voice, a great band," Jones said. "He’s kind of a big deal in my eyes, so I think opening up for him is going to be an awesome opportunity."
In fact, when Jones found out he and his band were opening for Watson, his first reaction was to give Hande, who delivered the news, an award.
"I think my exact words were, 'whoever was responsible for this should be named employee of the year,'" he said with a chuckle.
Brandon Jones, also the name of the band, is an energetic group that Jones said plays mostly covers, with a few original songs. They play country, classic rock and "rocked up country," with some classics, some new and a few surprises thrown in just for fun.
Born and raised in Rapid City, Jones said he got his start performing on the McDonald's Stage during the Black Hills Idol Contest about eight years ago. Since then, he has also opened for best-selling bands like Sawyer Brown and Diamond Rio.
"It's been quite the journey, and I hope it keeps going," Jones said.
His band will also perform during the Boots and Beer Festival, along with Zeona Road and Ruthless West.
The Boots and Beer Festival is another event geared toward a younger crowd, Hande said, that offers a new way to mix agriculture (breweries are regulated under the Department of Agriculture) and music into one event.
Held at the James Kjerstad Event Center, the fourth-annual Boots and Beer Festival starts at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 3. Attendees will be able to sample beer from different breweries while listening to live music from the bands. Tickets are $20.
Hande said Boots and Beer brewers must be located in South Dakota, or within traveling distance to the stock show. This year, that includes a brewer from Sheridan, Wyo., and possibly one from Valentine, Neb.; but Hande said it's important to support businesses in South Dakota and in rural communities.
"So we want to make sure that we’re supporting agriculture in a different way," Hande said. "We’re able to educate in a different way."