Colorado’s Lu Vason, the creator of the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, was a fixture in the Greater Denver community, using his rodeo events to preserve the legacy of Black cowboys and their rightful place in the history of rodeo.
Vason held the first of his invitational events in 1984 in Denver, taking the rodeo from a small local event into what he and his partners billed as the “greatest show on dirt.” Cities such as Los Angeles, Oakland, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. have been stops for the “A Rodeo with Soul” national tour backed by the invitational rodeo team.
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According to accounts, Vason began his career as a show promoter, putting on concerts featuring Stevie Wonder, Prince, The Pointer Sisters, and festivals such as the Denver Jazz Fest. Vason was also a beautician and barber, using his well-honed people skills to organize the concerts and rodeos.
A close family friend said that Vason was tirelessly devoted to assisting the Black community, and gave time and money to several causes over the course of his career. The friend said that Vason gave his time even to those who didn’t necessarily like him as a person.
The Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo has traveled to 33 cities across the nation, serving as both entertainment and education as it made sure to highlight the contributions of the Black cowboy and cowgirl. Men and women are showcased in several events, including the event Pickett invented known as “bulldoggin’” or better known as steer wrestling. Vason wanted to make sure that fans attending his rodeo knew the importance of Pickett to the history of the rodeo.
Vason died in Denver in May of 2015. He was 76.