I took this photo just off of main street in Stonyford. It is peaceful and serene – idyllic. But what I have not written about (and what my photos do not show) is the wild and woolly nature of rodeo weekend. Walking around town I saw people wearing official rodeo t-shirts that read “Do you remember last year’s Stonyford Rodeo?” and then on the reverse side: “Me neither.” Another had the classic Vegas motto: “What happens in Stonyford stays in Stonyford.” For the most part, they were right.
During the rodeo I watched grown men stumble through the grandstand mouthing off to strangers, their faces red and glistening in an alcoholic sweat. Fights and scuffles around the rodeo seemed to be ubiquitous; I witnessed young men brawling in the dirt, shoving and hollering slurred vulgarities at each other.
In many ways it felt like the wild west – a place where the law had no hold. There was a significant police presence, but it didn’t seem to be nearly enough to counter the drunken mayhem.
My focus in photographing Stonyford was the rodeo itself. But if I were to go back next year, I would put more emphasis on capturing the people of the rodeo and their drunken escapades. I saw so many interesting people – like the old drunk man with the walker who putted around the rodeo with a small Jack Russell Terrier tucked in his shirt and two beers balanced in one hand; or the rodeo clown who got so drunk and belligerent at the bar one night that the sheriff had to come and escort him back to his trailer; or there were the seven or eight young men who stood in the back of their truck pounding Bud Lights and yelling at passing women for what seemed to be the entirety of the weekend – when they finally drove away on Sunday morning they left behind a veritable carpet of beer cans around where their truck had been. Those people were the true spectacles of the weekend.
But most of the rest of the year Stonyford is a very sleepy town. From the turn off the highway it takes about twenty miles of dirt road, and then another twenty miles of patchy, rough, pot-holed blacktop, to get to Stonyford. It is about as far off the grid as you can get in California and still have access to a bar, a store, and a gas pump (amazingly gas was cheaper in Stonyford than in San Francisco). And yet, people live here. They ranch, they wait tables and bar tend at the Timberline Bar, they ride in rodeos. To me Stonyford felt like stepping back in time, but to the locals it’s just business as usual.