When John Harrison first started as a showman in the 1990s, he was just looking to make a living in the rodeo industry.
Now two decades later, he is one of the preeminent entertainers in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. He is a four-time winner of the PRCA Comedy Act of the year and is a two-time winner of the Coors Man in the Can, recognizing the top barrelman in the game each year.
Harrison will showcase that talent at the Austin County Fair and Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12-Saturday, Oct. 14, at the Austin County Fairgrounds in Bellville.
“I’ve never been to Bellville, so I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
Raised in Soper, Okla., to a rodeo family, Harrison began his entertaining career as a trick rider. He joined the PRCA in 1999, and within five years, he had transitioned to being a clown and barrelman. It provided greater opportunities and has allowed him the chance to showcase the funny side of his amazing abilities.
“Everything’s changed since I first started clowning,” said Harrison, 38, the grandson of 1962 world champion bull rider Freckles Brown. “I’m married and have a family and responsibilities. My whole life has changed.”
It’s been pretty good. When possible, his wife, Carla, and their three children travel the rodeo circuit with him. When it’s not possible, Harrison knows his rodeo family will be there in support and spirit.
When it’s all combined, that life is why he is one of the top entertainers in the game today. He knows the awards are nice, but it’s the story behind them that makes it all better. The awards are based on votes by PRCA members, so it’s his peers that make the awards so memorable.
“It’s the greatest honor that there is, and it’s very humbling because you know the amount of talent that there is in rodeo,” he said. “It makes you feel so good.”
Three of the past four years, Harrison has been selected as the barrelman for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s grand championship that takes place over 10 December nights in Las Vegas.
He brings that kind of talent and fortitude to the job in Bellville.
“John is good, clean family fun,” said John Gwatney, chute boss at the Austin County Fair and Rodeo. “It’s his rodeo background, because he grew up in this sport. For us, he helps us with the timing of our production. When you know what needs to be done and have someone that doesn’t have a big ego, then he’s willing to do work and willing to do that for the production.”
What Harrison does best is find the best ways to entertain the fans. Whether it’s engaging with them through his humor or showcasing his incredibly athletic ability, smiles are his greatest reward.
“I like everybody to come to the rodeo and truly get away from the problems in their lives,” he said. “I want them to leave that stuff at home and come have fun. When they have fun, then it throws gas on the fire for me.”
There should be plenty of flames in Bellville.