Mule Days organizers gear up to kick off a good time

By: 
Kristina Blüm Justice
Staff Writer

For 50 years, the Bishop Mule Days Celebration has been the biggest party in the Eastern Sierra every Memorial Day weekend, and after weathering the pandemic and cancelation of the 2020 event, the beloved mule show is back.
“We’ve got wonderful events, wonderful contestants who have stepped up to provide unique things to see, and a complete Roman riding act, complete with mules, which has never been seen before,” said Jennifer Roeser, who is heading the event planning.
Set for May 25-30 this year with the theme “2020 Vision through the Eyes of a Mule – Take 2,” Mule Days 2021 will feature some of its most iconic and beloved personalities, including arena clown Frankie “Punkintown” Smith, and legendary rodeo announcer Bob Tallman, who has been the voice of Mule Days almost from the beginning of the annual celebration.
Although the traditional concert, opening night supper and barbecue will not happen this year, the event organizers have created some alternative entertainment, including outdoor live music on Friday and Saturday at the Berger Solar Electric State at the fairgrounds.
Mule Days has always featured a lineup of clinics that take place throughout the week. This year, the clinics will feature expert demonstrations and talks.
Among those will be Bishop’s own Bobby Tanner, teamster of the legendary 20 Mule Team, who will give a presentation about driving wagons with a jerk line on big-hitch teams – a skill rarely seen in modernity.
Thursday will feature a special presentation from travel writer Mark Bedor, who will talk about his TV show, “Today’s Wild West.” Saturday morning, the American Mule Museum will host a live auction at the fairgrounds, with an entertaining auctioneer and plenty of excitement.
Another demonstration, which has event organizers particularly excited, will feature the Apparejo Pack Saddle. This historic packing technique originated in Mexico, and was used in the wild west before big-hitch teams like the 20 Mule Team began hauling heavy machinery. Locally, this technique was used to pack equipment to Cerro Goardo, the Sparkplug Mine, and other historic mining landmarks.
“It’s going to be a neat look back in time,” Roeser said.
Although the Mule Days crew “tried like heck” to host the parade or some sort of alternative this year, the parade had to be canceled – postponed until Mule Days 2022, Roeser said.
This year, the logistics for hosting Mule Days put all the mule-skinner grit and dedication of staff and volunteers to the test, as constantly changing and unclear health mandates and restrictions made things complicated. Roeser said the Mule Days crew has spent hundreds of hours on the phone with competitors, guests, venders and health officials in preparation for the event. Getting the green light from both the state and county required the organizers to face countless hurdles, but still they persevered, and they are excited about the event they have planned.
While this year’s Mule Days is going to look a little different from the usual celebration, so far the reception has been overwhelmingly positive and ticket sales are strong.
“People are happy to support us, happy to come, and happy to be a part of Mule Days,” she said. “The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive.”
The county Health Department’s mandates include requiring everyone to purchase tickets for the event in advance; there will be no ticket sales during the event. There will be health and safety precautions implemented across the fair grounds.
Additionally, all out-of-state guests will be required by the county Health Department mandate to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination due to the state’s discouragement of travel to or from other states.
A full list of COVID precautions will be made available on the Mule Days website as soon as the organizers know the full extent of them.
For those who are unable to attend the event in person, the major shows will be live-streamed, Roeser said.
All of the latest information about the event will be available at muledays.org.

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