Mississippi Coliseum – Dixie Nationals Livestock Show and Rodeo
Photos by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.14
Mississippi Coliseum 1207 Mississippi St Jackson, MS 39202
Year Opened: 1962
Greatest Show on Dirt
For 10 days every February some of the best cowboys in the world come to Jackson, Mississippi. The State Fairgrounds are transformed into the Rodeo Capital of the U.S., as the Dixie Nationals Livestock Show and Rodeo takes over the city. The idea for the Dixie Nationals began in the early 1960s when then Mississippi Agricultural Commissioner Si Corley and three Jackson businessmen took trips out west and saw the different livestock shows and rodeos that took place. By 1966 the first Dixie Nationals had begun, and by the third year the event turned a profit.
Nicknamed the 'Greatest Show on Dirt' and the ‘Biggest Rodeo East of the Mississippi’, the Dixie Nationals, now entering its 57th year in 2023, is one of the premiere rodeos in the country and one of Mississippi's largest sporting events. The month-long livestock show and rodeo attracts more than 200,000 visitors to the State Fairgrounds, for an estimated economic impact of more than $20 million.
Food & Beverage 4
Food is plentiful at the Dixie Nationals, so much so that you could fill yourself up before you even step foot inside Mississippi Coliseum. It is a carnival-like atmosphere on the grounds, with different food trucks and different food booths open during the event. The typical fair food is here along with seafood and gumbo. The Mississippi Cattleman's Association also has a giant barn set up called the Beef Barn – if it has meat in it you bet you can find it at the Beef Barn; they even have a "Hot Beef Sundae" which looks just like an ice cream sundae, but instead it's a cup of mashed potatoes and roast beef, topped with sour cream and cherry tomatoes.
Another option is the Mississippi Trade Mart Building, a convention center-style building attached to the coliseum which has that building's regular concessions open inside, so you can find the usual fare there as well. For upscale food check out the Dixie National Steakhouse inside the Trade Mart Building; some of the best chefs in the Jackson area partnered together to create their own steakhouse. Inside you can get expensive sirloin, ribeye, and everything else before heading into the coliseum to watch some rodeo action. Once inside Mississippi Coliseum there are four concession stands, each with the regular ballpark fare. Chicken tenders, hot dogs, hamburgers, hot dogs, and nachos round out the menu with prices from $4 to $9. Several pop-up bars round out the concourse as well, serving a wide selection of alcoholic drinks.
The Dixie Nationals is more than just a rodeo – it is an event in itself. The Dixie Nationals unofficially begins the first week of January, with various judging competitions and showmanship awards for different animals. There are also livestock auctions taking place throughout the grounds almost every day in the weeks leading up to the official start of the rodeo. The main rodeo takes place for ten days in the middle of February inside the 6,500-seat Mississippi Coliseum on the grounds of the State Fairgrounds, but there is so much more to see and do here, with events going on at all times in the other buildings on the fairground's property.
The rodeo starts on a Friday and ends the following Sunday, and they really go all out here bringing a taste of the wild west to Mississippi for those ten days. On the first Saturday morning of the Rodeo they do a giant parade through the streets of downtown, but instead of floats it is all covered wagons and horse-drawn carriages. Cowboys ride on their horses and parade from the fairgrounds to the State Capitol; it really is a sight to see. Once at the State Fairgrounds there are also various events taking place every day, for example the Mississippi Agricultural Commission Fan Expo goes on all day in the Trade Mart next to the coliseum – this expo has everything from mechanical bulls to petting zoos for the kids. You can even sit on Wilbur the Famous Rodeo Bull and get your picture taken.
It is also a farmer's dream here at the expo, as you can find anything farm related here. They have interactive displays on the different soils and crops in Mississippi, and everything is interactive and touch-based to make it interesting, like the poultry exhibit where you can touch chicken eggs and watch them hatch. All the Mississippi-based industries had booths set up, as well as about 15-20 local colleges where they were trying to recruit prospective farming and agriculture majors. They even have about 100 different kinds of John Deere tractors on display, and you could climb into the tractors as well. The blacksmith booth set up was also a big hit, as I saw many people getting belts, boots and cowboy hats made.
After spending hours at the fan expo you will spend even more time in the parking lot checking out the different barns and stables on the property – there are hundreds of stables and several livestock arenas with different livestock shows and auctions going on. All the farmers and ranchers have their prized livestock on display in the stables, and you can go right up and touch some of the bulls and cows that are being sold and competing at the rodeo. I talked to some farmers and ranchers who had come all the way from Canada, Wyoming, California, and Colorado with their horses and cattle.
The Dixie Nationals consist of 10 rodeo shows that take place inside the coliseum over the course of the ten days, with two shows on Saturdays. Mississippi Agriculture Commissioner Andy Gibson makes an appearance before each show, giving a speech about the history of the Rodeo. Mississippi Coliseum is over 70 years old, but surprisingly is aging quite well for an old building. The whole building is glass covered from the outside, and the concourses are quite clean, having been renovated several years ago. Once in the seating bowl there is not a bad view from anywhere in the building, with the 6,500 seats close enough to the action so you can see everything, with a large temporary videoboard hanging in the center.
The Dixie National Rodeo is part of the Southeastern circuit of the Professional Rodeo Circuit of America (PRCA), so you will see the top cowboys in the country compete. You will see seven rodeo events contested each day of the competition, namely bareback riding, steer wrestling, team roping, saddle bronc riding, tie down roping, barrel racing, and bull riding. A popular country music concert ends each night of the rodeo action, and after the final event of each show fans are invited to come down to the dirt, where they construct a stage for the concert.
The State Fairgrounds are located in the middle of downtown Jackson, the capital and largest city in Mississippi. In recent years Jackson has gained a reputation as a not-so-safe city, but as long as you are aware of your surroundings and don't venture too far away from downtown, especially after dark, you should be fine. Downtown is filled with historical sites and beautiful scenery, and within walking distance to the fairgrounds you can see all the tourist sites that make Jackson so special.
If you are interested in the state's rich history, then visiting downtown Jackson is for you. Located two blocks from the fairgrounds is the state capitol, which was built in 1903 and is available for public tours. Pay attention to the beautiful stained-glass windows at the top of the capitol building; it is quite impressive with the intricate designs. Also across the street from the State Fairgrounds is the old capitol building, which served the state from 1839 until 1903 – the old capitol is available for tours as well, and is one of the few buildings in Jackson to survive the Civil War. Next to the old capitol is the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, which just opened and is a popular spot for tourists. Other popular museums downtown include the Museum of Art, Children's Museum, and the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, a must visit for anyone who visits Jackson.
For the night life scene of Jackson check out the Fondren District, about 4 miles north of the State Fairgrounds. You will find lawyers, politicians, doctors, and college students from one of Jackson's three universities mingling together in the bars and restaurants that line Old Canton Road into the district; near the fairgrounds there are also a few bars worth checking out as well. For the live music scene check out Hal & Mal's, or if you are into craft beers, try the hip Tavern on George Street. Fenian's Pub also remains a popular spot among locals for its dark and rustic setting.
The Dixie Nationals is a huge event that attracts fans, cowboys, cowgirls, ranchers, and farmers from all over the country. For the 2023 edition fans will get even more events and live interactions with animals, as well as top-tier country music acts each night of the rodeo action. Mississippi native Randy Houser, former All-Pro bull rider turned country singer Chancey Williams, Mark Chestnutt, Diamond Rio, and Lainey Wilson are just some of the country acts that have performed for the Dixie Nationals. Lainey Wilson is the star of the popular show ‘Yellowstone’, so her show was a favorite among the fans, with that night's showing of the rodeo selling out as soon as tickets went on sale.
Between the fan expo, vendor booths, exhibits, and livestock auction/displays, fans could spend hours walking around the grounds before even walking inside to watch the actual rodeo; I spent about 3-4 hours just walking the grounds, and I could have easily spent more time.
Even if you have no knowledge of rodeo terms or rodeo culture, famed rodeo announcer Mike Mathis keeps fans informed of the action on the dirt, and Mississippi Agriculture Commissioner Andy Gibson makes an appearance before each rodeo giving a speech about the history of the event. A pretty cool 'Welcome to Mississippi' video also plays on the videoboard at the start, signifying that this is a statewide event. In addition, rodeo clowns entertain the fans during the competitions, with announcer Mike Mathis cracking jokes and playing games with the crowd and the clowns. The clowns definitely keep the crowd entertained through various prizes and bringing fans down to the dirt – the favorite among kids was when they threw the wheezers, a.k.a. boomerangs, into the crowd.
Mississippi Coliseum and the State Fairgrounds are conveniently located right off I-55, the main north and south corridor through downtown Jackson. Jackson is located at the halfway point between New Orleans and Memphis, about 3 hours from each. The best exit to take when getting off I-55 is Exit 96 at High Street, and the fairgrounds’ parking lot is located right there. Once on the grounds there is enough parking for over 20,000 cars, so even though the parking lot is full of vendors and livestock auctions going on, you shouldn't have any trouble finding a parking spot. The coliseum opens about an hour and a half before each show, and traffic through the concourse runs smoothly. Mississippi Coliseum doesn't look as old as it is, and the concourses are clean and wide enough for people to get to their seats easily.
Return on Investment 4
As one of the biggest rodeos in the country, tickets are easy to come by and relatively cheap. The coliseum really has just one level of seating, with general admission at the top and in the end zones, costing between $25 and $30 depending on fees, while lower-level seats are $40 to $45 depending on fees. Parking is surprisingly free, which is always a plus. Factoring in the plethora of concessions and food options you get access too once on the grounds, I consider this a good return on investment – you are getting to see some of the best cowboys in the country and some pretty impressive livestock if you walk the grounds. The Dixie Nationals is a cool event that I recommend everyone check out, even if you have no interest in rodeos.
Mississippi Coliseum is also Jackson's largest indoor sports and entertainment venue; the coliseum opened in 1962 and attracts a whole host of acts and sporting events to Jackson each year. Some of the top-named acts to perform at the facility over the years include Aerosmith, AC/DC, BB King, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Eddie Murphy, Elton John, Elvis Presley, Jimmy Buffett, Kiss, Guns N' Roses, Ozzy Osbourne, Prince, and many more. The coliseum was also home to the Jackson Bandits of the ECHL from 1999-2003, and hosts one Mississippi State and Ole Miss basketball game every year.
Another random fact about the State Fairgrounds is that it sits 2,900 feet above an extinct volcano. Nicknamed the Jackson Volcano, it is one of four volcanoes located within city limits in the U.S. The volcano was discovered while drilling for oil in 1917, and is believed to been extinct for over 65 million years.
Another extra for the concert that is held every night after the Rodeo – as soon as the final event of the night concludes (bull roping), fans are invited down to the dirt as a stage is built in about 20 minutes for a popular country music act. There is just something about being able to stand on the actual dirt just minutes after one of the largest rodeos in the country just finished, and factoring that in with the country music concert just sets the mood, and sends the crowd home happy from the rodeo.
Popular trick roper and rodeo entertainer Rider Keizner and his wife Bethany Idles also make an appearance every year at the Dixie Nationals. Rider Keizner has been called a modern-day Will Rogers, and he delights the crowd with his different rope tricks and the gunslinging he does. His wife will come out on her famous white bronco and do handstands on the back of the horse, as the horse cuts in and out of different obstacles placed on the course.