BRIGHTON — The 81st annual Brighton Field Day Festival and Rodeo had something for everyone. Held Feb. 15-17, the fun-filled event attracted more than 5,000 people from the region who came to enjoy the music, entertainment, rodeo, Indian relay races, shopping and food.
As a bonus, visitors also learned about Seminole culture, food and arts and crafts. Tribal vendors did a brisk business selling patchwork, beadwork, baskets and other traditional items.
Field Day actually began as an athletic competition between the reservations in 1938. Once the rodeo, food, arts and crafts were added, the event morphed into the massive festival it is now.
On the first day, hundreds of school children filled the stands for the grand entry which included Tribal officials, Seminole royalty, Miss Indian World, the Lakota Women Warriors and Seminole Color Guards and WISDOM dancers exhibition group.
Next up was the traditional warrior demonstration which, through simulated traditional warfare, showed how the Seminoles deterred the U.S. soldiers in the Everglades during the Seminole Wars and became the Unconquered Tribe.
Members of the warrior team, Quenton Cypress, Tucomah Robbins, Jason Melton and Andrew Walin train long and hard to perfect the moves while using authentic weapons from the 1800s. The “fights” are actually carefully choreographed stunts; they each take a beating, but none more than Walin, who plays the U.S. soldier. He lost every “fight” and wound up on the ground each time.
Tara Johns brought a group of home schooled students from Highlands County to experience their first Field Day.
“It was very interesting,” said ninth grader Lantana Turner, 14. “We usually just see the settlers’ side of it.”
Fueled by the Buck Wild drum group from Arizona, the WISDOM dancers from Oklahoma each showcased their own dance style. Feathers, ribbons, jingles and shawls made for a stunning display of fancy, grass, traditional, jingle and fancy shawl dancing. A spirit and shield dance between a hoop and fancy dancer was colorful simulation of warfare.
Tribal member Shylah Walker, 10, who has been jingle dancing for four years, joined the WISDOM dancers in the amphitheater.
Aztec Fire Dancers, alligator wrestling, venomous snake shows, Laura Grizzlypaws, White Mountain Apache Crown Dancers and Zuni Dancers rotated through the amphitheater each day of the festival. Over in the Fan Zone concert area, attendees were entertained by the Cowbone Band, the Redneck Crazy Band and the Rita Youngman Band.
The Fred Smith Rodeo arena came to life each day with the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association rodeo, which featured cowboys and cowgirls from around the nation as well as Seminole reservations. An appearance from Florida State University’s Osceola and Renegade added to the colorful pageantry as part of the rodeo Feb. 16.
Paul Bowers Sr., retired Marine Corps colonel and recipient of two Purple Heart awards, was honored for his service in Vietnam before the Lakota Women Warriors presented the colors. Mackenzie Bowers displayed the American Flag on horseback and Rita Youngman sang the U.S. national anthem.
With that, the cowboys and cowgirls did their best to earn points and accolades as they rode broncs and bulls, wrestled and roped steer and sped horses around stationary barrels.