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Laser Guy Brings Wow Factor to Wrangler NFR

Sep 30, 2021

Laser Guy Brings Wow Factor to Wrangler NFR

By Brian Hurlburt

At the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo® each December in Vegas, there are dozens of wow moments.

But the overall wow factor that begins from night one and runs through go-round 10 can be tracked back to a person behind the scenes with rock ‘n’ roll experience and a sixth-sense for getting a crowd excited.

Marty Canavan is known as the laser guy around the NFR, ever since getting involved for the first time in 1998 when he met Shawn Davis, the former NFR general manager. His role has continually expanded and includes stage manager duties and more.

When not helping the NFR, Canavan operates YLS Entertainment and has been involved at the highest levels of entertainment since he was 15. He has toured and run productions and lasers for Ronnie James Dio, Mötley Crüe, LL Cool J, and Ice-T.  Plus, he programmed laser effects for VH1 Rock Honors — a tribute to “The Who.” He has also provider laser experiences for Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, The Voice and X Factor and the Jabbawockeez Las Vegas show, among others.

“Marty and his family have been at the Wrangler NFR for many years and have a great feel for timing and what entertains the crowd,” says Allen Rheinheimer, NFR general manager. “He can envision the whole picture and has the knowledge and confidence to put it together. He helps deliver to the fans the ultimate experience.  Marty and Louann (Marty’s Mom) have great contacts within Las Vegas, so when things are needed at a moment’s notice, they always come through. He brings a great deal of talent to the NFR and is always ready to handle any situation.”

Here’s the story behind his role with the Wrangler NFR in Canavan’s own words:

The first thing that comes to mind about the NFR are long nights and that we just try to make it a little bigger, a little better every year. So far, I think we’re headed in the right direction for this year. There’s a bigger lighting package coming in and the stage itself has some little extra special things that we’re doing on it that we’re kind of holding back from letting people know.

This year we are broadcasting live, so it will add some new challenges. I am primarily in charge of sound and lasers and pyro. Then during the rodeo, I call everything and keep us on schedule. Once the rodeo starts, I just keep it on its tracks like a stage director for the whole thing. This year will be a little different with commercial breaks and keeping on that schedule because in years past we’ve always done everything we can to keep it to that two-hour lockdown. So, when we would go into an audience participation thing, I’d know exactly where we were. We could adjust for timing and those types of things, but with the commercial breaks this year, we had to build in three-minute breaks in between each event.

The biggest challenge is timing. We don’t really know a lot of things for certain because there are variables. For example, nobody really knows how long the National Anthem singers will take, so we allot a certain amount of time for every Anthem, but somebody may come in and sing it in 35 seconds and so now we’re a minute and a half ahead of everything. But someone else may go slower. That’s always the biggest challenge because we’ve always wanted to start exactly at the set time. In the past it was 7:01, so you want the first horse bucking right then. Throughout the evening we are always hedging one way or the other for time. We always would rather be a little bit early than late because I can talk to the announcers and have them stretch out the grand entry to buy us a little time if we need a little extra time there. But you can’t get time back once it’s gone.

My mother and father were in a band and my father, who passed away 12 years ago, was a big part of the NFR. He and Shawn (Davis) met in the 90s and they became really good friends. They trusted each other. There was a night we didn’t have an Anthem singer so my father sang. Because of my parents, I have been around entertainment and production since I was 15 or even younger.

When I first got involved with the NFR, it was a different world for me because I came from rock and roll and corporate shows. Before I did a rodeo, the biggest animal I’d ever been around was a Labrador retriever and then all of a sudden there’s giant horses surrounding me.

The best story about my transition to rodeo was the first year I ever did the NFR. The only advice anybody gave me was if you see a little black bull, get out of the arena because that’s a fighting bull. And I took that to heart. Then they ran the steer across the arena to put them over in the timing area. Inside my brain, I thought they were a bunch of little black bulls running in the arena. I ran screaming for people to get out of the way while everybody just laughed at me. That was my introduction to rodeo.

I first got involved with the Wrangler NFR because there was a hockey team that used to play at the Thomas & Mack Center, the Las Vegas Thunder. They added a laser system that we had sold them and Shawn had seen it and liked it. There was one laser that did just graphics down on the ice for the Thunder the first year I called and basically told the people how to make it create just a rotating NFR and they did that in 1997. But Shawn decided he wanted to add more lasers. The rest is history and it has been a huge part of the show ever since.

I absolutely love it that Allen Rheinheimer is now in charge. He and Las Vegas Events are more involved and we have gone through a process of evaluating everything and what the fans will see is improved from what was already great.