Annie Oakely Western Showcase 2018: Adjusting to the heat in the kitchen

As I do every year I look forward to the Annie Oakley Western Showcase in Greenville, Ohio which took place over this past weekend. Most of the footage from this Gery Deer segment on Living Dayton came from me, which gives context to what a cool event it is.

The event was moved back to the Darke County fairgrounds this year and was set up a bit differently than it had been in the past, which was an improvement over previous years. As my time is usually very short due to a very full schedule I usually show up for the bullwhip competitions at 1 PM on Saturday afternoon and stay for a few hours than get back to my regular life. But most of the performers there stay for the entire weekend and it’s always good to see everyone even if it’s just for a little while. Gery Deer puts on this event every year and he’s about as busy as I am much of the time, but these kinds of things are his business so he’s usually there through the entire weekend. Whenever I arrive in Greenville I can’t help but think of it as the gateway to the west as history remembers it, the Treaty of Greenville after the Battle of Fallen Timbers and the efforts of western expansion that took place immediately after. It’s big sky country in that part of the world and its one of the few times I can walk around and eat funnel cakes with bullwhips and guns strapped to my hip and nobody thinks anything of it.

I felt very fast this year in the competitions which was good. Professionally I had just come off a really tough week. I had been thinking that even the biggest high stakes poker games broadcast on television did not have the pressure I was under. But I wouldn’t have it any other way, I like it in the kitchen with the heat turned up. The more pressure, the better I do. But to manage all that professional stress I rely on the Annie Oakley Western Showcase every year to recalibrate myself. The Ohio Fast Draw Association had their shooting range set up right across from our Showcase area and I spent time with them as well which has been my new thing of late, shooting Cowboy Fast draw which I practice nearly every day. Because of that everything was faster for me and I felt it in the bullwhip competitions.

We mostly do the competitions for the crowd because it gives a good narrative to the greater show that Gery Deer puts on each year. We keep things pretty loose and fun. But for me it’s a step out of a very intense business and political world that I normally live in where I get to wear my cowboy hat and be around genuinely good people who do things for all the right reasons. That for me is very refreshing and that one event satisfies me for the entire upcoming year. If I could make a good career living life in the manner that we do during that western showcase, I would. However, for me the drawback is that it would require being on the road all the time and with the size of my family, that just wouldn’t work.

Gery and I always talk about ideas for the future and how to expand on our experience, but with both of us being so busy the next year usually comes faster than we can call each other to make arrangements, but all that freezes for just a few hours on the last Saturday of the month of July when Darke County celebrates the life of Annie Oakley’s birthday in her home town. As Gery reported to me, every hotel and motel room was booked for the weekend, and under the new location, there was a very large crowd attending to watch us have a little fun with our bullwhips. As I’ve said, I use those competitions every year as a kind of gauge for myself to manage stress. I practice a lot in private but its good to get out in front of people and to perform because the added pressure provides context to all the hours of practicing.

One of the reasons I joined up with the Cowboy Fast Draw Association is to have more of these kinds of weekends in the future. The more intense my private life gets professionally the more I seek these Annie Oakley type of events to balance out all that pressure. I always like to strip things away to the most essential ingredients and nothing does it quite as well as eating a funnel cake under a clear blue sky after sweating profusely performing in front of a crowd with a gun strapped to your hip. I solve more problems under those conditions than I could under any other circumstance. When everything is going well in my head it shows in my performance which is why I enjoy the event so much. Among my bullwhip friends they really can be broken down into two categories, performers and competitors. Performers do the same show over and over again making minor changes, and they travel all over the country making their money off that raw talent. I am of the competitor orientation, because that’s the life I live. There is always someone competitive and pushing, so the pressure to always be the best is a daily thing, and to apply that to a unique skill such as bullwhip work, gives me a chance to work through the process of refining basic skills that carry over into everything.

This past year I had practiced cowboy fast draw nearly every day and that had improved my reaction times with the bullwhips. When your body and intellect is working well, it feels good, especially when you get up over 50 like I am now. You tend to take those things for granted when you’re younger, but life has a way of chipping away at you, so knocking off all that buildup so that your body and mind is functioning efficiently and in an optimal fashion is very satisfying. In that way I think it would be good if everyone found something like that to do, where they pushed themselves to perform better and carried over the results into their private and business life. What’s encouraging to me is that even after all this time, I’ve been going to the Annie Oakley Western Showcase for the past 15 years, there is still room to get better, faster, and to learn new things. Learning the cowboy fast draw had improved everything for me, and it felt good. And that’s why we do those events, to push ourselves and spend time with people who are doing their best to live the best life possible within the framework of traditional western arts. I am proud to know knife throwers, bullwhip artists, and gunslingers as some of my closest confidants. That was the way it was in the early days of Ohio as a state which was the gateway to western expansion and it still is. Sure technology and modernization add layers of complication to the modern life of business, but if you strip it all way to the basic essentials, those elements are always present at the Annie Oakley Western Showcase and I always leave there feeling recharged for more heat in the hot kitchen.

Rich Hoffman

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