CultureMap Emails Are AwesomeGet Houston intel delivered daily.
We will not share or sell your email address.
go for the gold
In the Texas-sized universe that is the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, few things are more exclusive than the private tents of the World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest, which turns 50 this year.
And arguably, the hottest, most in-demand wristband for the Bar-B-Que Contest (we know it as the Cook-off) is the Cotton ‘Q Club, hosted by Cook-off sponsor Cotton Holdings. The red-hot Cotton ‘Q opens Thursday, February 22 and welcomes revelers each night through Saturday, February 24, with more than 700 expected to pack the party.
We've covered the ridiculously over-the-top, lavish Cotton ‘Q tent since it first opened two years ago. The brainchild of charming cowboy CEO Pete Bell and his powerhouse marketing executive vice president Zinat Ahmed, calling the destination a "tent" is like calling a Bugatti a "car."
Rock star marketing exec Zinat Ahmed poses with her pony in the Cotton ‘Q Club Photo by Ashley Patranella of Painted Peacock Photography
This "tent" boasts more than 10,000 square feet of wood-paneled, plaid-carpet luxury that immediately calls to mind New York City's iconic Polo Club. Added flair comes with Ahmed's floral flourish (seriously, there are thousands of roses) that references the Kentucky Derby. Crystal-and-antler chandeliers, seven-foot white iridescent horse statues, and a tufted bar create a cowboy chic/urbane vibe.
50 for 50 = a gold VVIP party
Each year, Ahmed and her crew up the glam, and this year is no different. To honor the “golden” celebration of 50 years of the Cook-off, the Cotton ‘Q Club will showcase gold floral arrangements throughout and gold cocktails. Rap superstar and wine fan 50 Cent gets a tribute with his award-winning Le Chemin du Roi champagne.
“When I finished Cook-off off last year, it was fun, it was brilliant — wouldn't change a thing,” Ahmed tells CultureMap. “But I came away thinking we were missing something and honestly, it was 50 Cent’s champagne; like, I wanted it.
“He just fits the luxe vibe," she continues. "He fits the energy. He’s a winner with his wine, and I really wanted to include him as he’s also a Houston resident and part of the community.”
Champagne and Cowboy Caviar, y'all
While the ‘Q is already VIP, the VVIP set can kick up their heels at its hidden, speakeasy-style lounge dubbed The Gold Pony. A "Stay Golden" neon sign beckons the lucky 50 keyholders, who can sidle up to the private bar, lounge on the plush sofas and alligator chairs, and take selfies with a seven-foot golden pony or zebra heads. As for the VVIP crowd, the spot is so A-list that a "no photography" sign cautions anyone hoping to post to the 'gram.
The Gold Pony caused quite a buzz when it opened last year in its air-conditioned glory and went even more posh and exclusive last year. This year, to kick it up a notch, VVIPs can sip 50's champagne while sampling from a full "Cowboy Caviar" bar, courtesy of hip eatery Ciel. Here, premium caviar is paired with a potato chip or a small potato for the "cowboy" theme. Nothing says regal rodeo like caviar and champagne, no?
Big name music stars shine onstage
But it's not just luxury that awaits cowgirls and cowboys. In its inaugural year, country stars Midland treated guests to a private concert. This year's musical lineup stars William Beckman, Mackenzie Carpenter, and Big & Rich with Gretchen Wilson on Thursday. Friday sees rockin' country powerhouse Shane Smith and The Saints, and The Spazmatics close out the fun on Saturday.
Big & Rich play the big tent Thursday night. Big & Rich
Music fans and Yellowstone fans will recognize Shane Smith and The Saints; the band got major run on Season 5 of the series when they played John Dutton's (Kevin Costner) gubernatorial inauguration. Not long after, the Austin-based band played Texas Governor Greg Abbott's inauguration.
“A lot of people don’t understand how big a lot of these events are associated with the Houston Rodeo,” Smith tells us, “and that entire culture that the Rodeo is the center of. We have a ton of our friends who have gotten to headline and perform at the Rodeo — from Cody Johnson and his band Turnpike Troubadours, and Parker McCollum — so I’m really excited that we’re getting to do play it. It should be an incredible time.”
Shane Smith and The Saints, who made an appearance on Yellowstone, will play never-heard new songs at the tent.Photo courtesy of Shane Smith and The Saints
Smith and The Saints' Spotify following grew from more than 300,000 to 1.2 million after the Yellowstone exposure, but longtime fans can expect the band's Red Dirt faves along with an exclusive tease of new songs from the upcoming album, Norther, which drops in March.
"There's a song called 'Fire In The Sky' that nobody has gotten to hear yet that we're gonna be playing that night," Smith reveals. "It's about two brothers fighting in war and trying to make it home, and it's just a big Celtic rock epic song."
Hanging with Kevin Costner and Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan (who counts himself a big fan) hasn't gotten the band's heads too big for their Stetsons. ‘Q guests can expect to meet them after the show.
“I always try to be accessible and be cool to the folks that allow us to keep doing this at the end of the day,” says Smith. “I've done it for a very long time and I’m gonna always try to do it — to have that connection with our fans.”