The Annie Oakley Western Showcase 2017: Learning to live in the arena


There are so many things to be excited about in life, and as readers here know every year at the Annie Oakley Western Showcase It’s an exciting time for me.  I enjoy seeing my friend Gery Deer and the Bass family along with many others who usually come to the event in the big sky country of central Ohio at historic Greenville, Ohio to celebrate the life of Annie Oakley.  We get together once a year and have done so for the since the early 2000s to show off our western arts to the public in a grand vaudeville fashion and I think it’s truly something special.  Like I constantly explain to the young people who come to these things we are doing something that less than one percent of one percent is doing in the world and that makes these skills extremely unusual.  I would go on to say that celebrating these skills is a very important element to our American traditions.  If you really were to peel back the noise of modern politics you’d find at the essence of our philosophies the hopes and dreams communicated through the ages of the American people in their westerns and the Annie Oakley event clearly celebrates those sentiments.   I recharge myself each year at the event where we compete with each other a bit and show off for the public across a tapestry of Americana.

This year my oldest daughter came for the first time in a decade and she brought her son (my third grandchild).  He’s a very excited young man of just a year and a half in age—and he obviously got the passion gene honestly.  He gets excited about a great many things and can barely contain his emotions most of the time.  But I hadn’t worked much with bullwhips around him mainly because the timing hasn’t been right.  When I do work at home for practice he isn’t usually around as more and more I spend time at my shooting range on Cowboy Fast Draw.  I do have a speed and accuracy course set up in my back yard but he hasn’t been around much when I am there—so coming to Annie Oakley for him was a very stimulating experience.  Before we moved into the competitions we were warming up in the arena area as guests began to fill the bleachers and my little grandson was out there with us practicing—and he loved it.   That’s when Kirk Bass from the knife throwing group Bass Blades handed him a miniature bullwhip that was very nicely made, and my grandson worked hard to emulate what he was seeing.  It was pretty cute.

One thing my grandkids will never have to worry about so long as they are a part of my life is exposure to things that greatly enhance their existence.  Regarding my youngest grandson he naturally has so many interests already that I can see he’ll greatly benefit from all these unique experiences.  Knowing people who compete with bullwhips and throw knives for fun are skills that translate well into other parts of a life.  It was encouraging seeing his young mind soaking up everything from me and following me around as I practiced for the event in front of a growing audience.   Not only are the skills important to learn just for the act in focusing energy through a Wild West weapon of American tradition toward objectives designed to provide some theatrical context, but just performing in front of people is a significant first step in mastering crafts needed to live life.

Much of my ability to speak in public or to lead large groups of people professionally comes from my past experiences in performing with the bullwhip.  Working with a bullwhip for nearly 40 years now I learned to do it in front of people over time which made it easy for me to do other things in public—like speak on radio programs.  Or attend VIP political events while eyes of scrutiny look to dissect you over every little thing.  Public competition helps prepare you for the rigors of the world, so of course I want my grandchildren to master some skill which prepares them for the opposition they will naturally face in school—and in life.

I never force feed anybody anything, especially kids.  They have to come to the things that make them excited in life on their own accord. But I do go out of my way to expose my grandchildren to anything and everything I can to evoke positive responses in them toward life—just as I did my own children.  It was strange that my daughter Brooke had returned to this Annie Oakley event ten years later and her relationship with everyone sort of just continued as if nothing had ever transpired over that decade.  The only real difference is that now she had a child of her own there instead of being one herself.  Even though my kids didn’t go off and do bullwhips which I never tried to force on them, they are confident kids who are doing neat things in the world and that’s all I ask.  But to do that sometimes you have to stick your neck out and do something unique to break away from the limitations that society restricts itself to.  To think out of the box you sometimes have to get out of the box and do something unique to start seeing things that people who are just sitting in the audience can’t see yet.  Whether it’s competing with bullwhips, throwing knives or performing quick draw with Colt .45s the skills of the western arts are good ways to be successful at other things in life.

You might have watched the video on the Tweet from Gery Deer who hosts this event every year that was featured on the Living Dayton television show.   Even though the Annie Oakley Western Showcase is literally in the middle of God’s country on the buckle of the Bible Belt mainstream culture is very curious about it as they always have been.  Not enough to pick it up and run with it—because the skills of tradition are so foreign to the current mainstream experience—but there is always hope and awe in how the public interacts with the performers of the western arts.  Cracking targets out of people’s hands and throwing an axe at a balloon positioned near a real person are things that fascinate the public immensely.  I have witnessed from direct experience and watching many of the kids of these Wild West performers grow up over the years that their interaction with these skills have helped them in many other ways.  So I enjoyed quite a lot to see that spark in my grandson’s eyes as he wanted nothing more at that moment but to emulate his grandpa by slinging his own bullwhip around.  Kids will soak up anything that adults give to them and when that exchange is pure—and honest, it’s a really beautiful thing.  The greatest let downs in life however are when parents and mentors don’t take that job very serious and over time I’ve watched a lot of people sit behind the ropes and observe from the stands being entertained for a while, but then moving on to the mundane aspects of living that happen when social predicate takes charge over human passions.  For a grandson of mine, what he needs in life is within the arena—so it was very nice to see at such a young age him showing such a desire, and comfort emerge before any kind of social restriction came along to set a bunch of artificial barriers.  And that is for me what makes the Annie Oakley event so special each year—it’s in the innocence and natural passions of the friends I have there.  I enjoy their company, and I enjoy seeing young people have the lights of their minds turned on guiding them through life the way only fresh ideas and confidence can. It truly is a beautiful thing to watch.

Rich Hoffman

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