The inaugural Keath Killebrew Memorial Rodeo, presented by the Killebrew Ag Foundation to benefit scholarships for aspiring young farmers, will be held July 28-29 at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson.
Fans of the rollicking world of rodeo sports can witness the International Pro Rodeo Association’s largest gathering of cowpokes in the country this month, when riders from around the world convene for the first Keath Killebrew Memorial Rodeo in Jackson, Miss.
“It’ll be the second largest rodeo in the world and the largest in the United States,” says Jeremy Smith of Deep South Rodeo, a lifetime rodeo fan and promoter. “We’re drawing cowboys and cowgirls from all over the U.S., Canada and South America, and as far as Australia.” Stakes in the contest will build through the weekend as riders compete for a $100,000 purse.
The fast-paced, action-packed weekend of rodeo events will feature traditional favorites like bull riding, calf roping, steer wrestling and barrel racing, with Chapel Hart capping the evening July 28 and Drake Milligan closing the event July 29. Individual tickets for both nights range from just $15 to $30 and are on sale now through Ticketmaster.
Spectators will get to enjoy a wide range of entertainment within the rodeo concept, Smith says, including an event known as bull poker in which riders take seats around a card table in the middle of the arena, while a rodeo clown taunts a bull into striking them. “We’ll turn the bull loose, and the last person seated wins the money,” he says. “You won’t see that at any other rodeo around.”
Each night, riders will also challenge their bovine adversaries in a segment of freestyle ultimate bullfighting. The cowboys and cowgirls will face a bull more or less as equals as they try to outwit and outrun them.
Playing the role of rodeo clown is Trent McFarland, a nationally recognized performer who has perfected his entertaining act over a lifetime of rodeo performances. McFarland will play a role in some of the bullfighting events, but will also entertain the crowd between all the riding, roping and wrestling action with themed comedic skits including Talladega Nights, the Wrangler Roadster, Dr. Donothing and His Cowboy Ambulance, the Great Who-Dunn-It Magic Show and more.
The Mississippi AG and Outdoor Expo put on by the Mississippi Wildlife Fisheries and Parks Foundation will also be set up at the Fairgrounds July 28 and 29.
Proceeds from the event—established in honor of Keath Killebrew, a Delta farmer, father, artist and entrepreneur who tragically died in a plane crash while exploring new farming opportunities in Paraguay—will benefit the Keath Killebrew Charisma Award Fund at the Community Foundation for Mississippi. The fund awards scholarships to young men and women interested in working in the agricultural field.
A lifelong Mississippian, Keath Killebrew farmed cotton, soybeans, rice, peanuts, wheat and watermelon across six counties throughout the Delta and surrounding hills from Senatobia to Flora. A true Renaissance man, Keath also raised cattle, tended bees and taught welding at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. At age 40, he expanded his passion for capturing the magic of Delta landscapes from photography to painting, a hobby he shared with his wife, licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Alyssa Killebrew.
“Keath truly lived his life like he was preparing for a bull ride,” Alyssa says. “He was always creating new ventures with his businesses and always excited to work hard, and that’s what bull riding and preparing for rodeos is all about. You know you’re gonna get bucked off, and he did many times as he was trying to build a farm operation, but he always got back on and always kept trying.”
Keath and Alyssa were schoolmates in Lexington, Miss., who were inseparable from the time they met when teenagers. As their friendship grew into a lifelong love, the Killebrews married and built their life together on Horseshoe Lake in Tchula, MS.. While Keath grew his agricultural ventures, including the Killebrew Cotton Company with his twin brother Heath, Alyssa established the Ridgeland-based Killebrew Psychological Services, which provides mental health services to adults and adolescents, and Essential Touchstones to help adolescents dealing with mental health conditions and substance use.
“We were each other’s soul mate, and he was the love of my life,” Alyssa says. “I don’t know how to get over this tragedy except to continue with all the things that we had planned to do together.”
The Killebrew Ag Foundation is a non-profit established with the Community Foundation of Mississippi to educate and train future farmers in modern, innovative techniques throughout the Mississippi Delta and abroad. The foundation awarded its first scholarships to four young Mississippians at the 2022 Mississippi State Fair, and plans to grant educational scholarships every year.
Poplarville, Miss., natives Chapel Hart became overnight national sensations in July 2022, when the family trio performed an original song, “You Can Have Him Jolene,” on the audition episode of “America’s Got Talent” season 17. For only the second time in the show’s history, judges Simon Cowell, Sofia Vergara, Howie Mandell and Heidi Klum awarded them with a Golden Buzzer, ushering them straight to the competitive rounds. Country Music Television named Chapel Hart to the 2021 class of Next Women of Country, and they released their third album, Glory Days, in 2023.
Drake Milligan, a country singer who hails from Mansfield, Texas, landed the role of Elvis Presley in the 2017 CMT series “Sun Records,” and placed third in season 17 of “America’s Got Talent.” In September 2022, Stoney Creek Records released his debut album, Dallas/Fort Worth, and landed the song “Sound Like Something I’d Do” in the top 40 of country music airplay in January 2023.