After 127 years, the Payson Rodeo can certainly claim it’s all about tradition.
One of the classic traditions: the after-rodeo dance held on Friday and Saturday nights.
For longer than most can remember, dancers have met up at the Ox Bow Saloon on Main Street to kick up their heels and celebrate. However, this year, the dance got split between two locations — the Ox Bow and the Payson Event Center.
On Friday night at least, the Ox Bow drew the traditional two-stepping crowd, while the rodeo grounds dance struggled — although that was the one sponsored by the Pro-Rodeo Committee.
The Ox Bow has always generated controversy.
“A lot of people loved it, but the town hated it,” said current owner Brian Mortensen.
He went on to explain that the town regularly dedicated 20 percent of its overtime to policing the bar.
“The place really had a horrible reputation,” said Mortensen.
Still, rodeo attendees and locals love it.
Just that night, Mortensen met a guy who rented a room at the Ox Bow in 1947 and only paid $3.
Local architect Rex Hinshaw used to come to the bar on Thursdays, buy a beer and hang out by a certain post.
“He carved his name there, you can see it today,” said Mortensen.
The Ox Bow had two bands, Moonshine Mafia and the Gibson Twins. The ambiance reminds guests of the Old West. Block tables with local’s names carved into them with hash-knives lay scattered about. Long bars overlooking dance floors and multiple rooms and patios keep the place from feeling cramped. The history of the bar makes for good stories, too.
Supposedly, the place is haunted. Owners hired paranormal experts who determined three ghosts haunt the Ox Bow. A woman named Peggy, an old cowboy and a teenage boy. On a scale of one to 10, the Ox Bow comes up a seven, said Mortensen.
However, the Pro-Rodeo Committee found that changing tradition creates challenges. They had a wonderful band, Western Fusion. They created a festive atmosphere with a tent and dance floor. They served drinks and food.
Yet most people ended up at the Ox Bow.
Mandy Rocca who attended the dance at the Payson Event Center said she enjoyed the band as she watched dancers twirl on the dance floor.