Looking on from the stands of Happy Canyon Arena, you can’t see the people behind the scenes who bring the show to life. They’re busy working.
Two of these people, Ken Long and Mary Finney, have worked behind the scenes of Happy Canyon going on three decades, and show no indication of stopping any time soon.
“What else are you going to do the first two weeks in September?” Finney asked rhetorically.
Since 1988 for Long and 1993 for Finney, the two have played integral roles behind the scenes of the Happy Canyon Night Show to ensure the pageant runs smoothly. Long handles the special effects, including pyrotechnics, while Finney is behind a control board commanding the lighting changes throughout the 90-minute show. The show takes place four nights during Round-Up, but both volunteers put in hours during the PBR Classic and Round-Up and Happy Canyon Concert earlier in the week.
‘Not an exact science’
It is a given that Finney, who works as director of Pendleton Public Library, and Long — maintenance supervisor at the National Guard Armory — take off an entire week of work in order to volunteer at Happy Canyon.
Long started helping with the lighting of Happy Canyon when his employer, Pendleton Electric, worked closely with the show. He met Finney through volunteering, and the two have been a couple ever since.
Back then, all of the lighting was controlled from three catwalks above the grandstand, which included spotlights and a large master switch that resembled those of Dr. Frankenstein films. One central catwalk remains for spotlights, but Finney’s booth has since been moved to the east side of the grandstand.
Meanwhile, Long is “all over the place” before and during the show. Various scenes with special effects — the outhouse explosion, bank explosion, Indian sacred drum, and fire at Goldie’s Palace — require Long’s attention as they happen. In their nearly three decades of involvement, however, with all the moving parts of the show, Long and Finney, along with 30 other people in their crew, don’t have their work down to an exact science.
“We’re working with animals and small children,” Long said. “Things don’t always go the way you want them to. You have to adjust.”
There was the time when Long, making his annual brief appearance in the outhouse scene, came running out with the dynamite only to trip and fall in the sawdust. He was able to get back up and complete the act, but spent the next few weeks hobbling around.
Or the night when longtime medicine man Dallas Dick got too close to the sacred drum as the charges went off simultaneously.
“He and I still laugh about that every year,” Long said. “He keeps asking me if I have enough powder in the drum this year.”
Despite these variables, and knowing that nearly every night is different, most of the audience often can’t tell when something happened in the show that wasn’t supposed to.
“No idea whatsoever. Thank goodness,” Finney said. “I think it’s really important for them to be entertained — that’s important for us. We don’t want them to know how hard it is.”
They say their volunteering longevity isn’t unique within Happy Canyon. On the contrary, both Long and Finney have been recipients of Happy Canyon Appreciation Awards, in 2006 and 2013, respectively. Only two of these awards are given out annually.
“Our cat hasn’t gotten one yet,” Long joked. “He hasn’t been down here often enough.”
Still going strong
Long, 62, and Finney, 65, don’t expect to pass on their roles any time soon, although they have started to consider training replacements. Finney has an assistant accompany her on the lighting board and Long has other people working alongside him to help with special effects.
“If I needed to be used in another part of the show I would not be adverse to doing that,” Finney said. “So far I haven’t needed to.”
What makes Happy Canyon unique, according to Long and Finney, are the volunteers like themselves who keep coming back year after year. While other shows have professionals in charge of production, the volunteer energy around Happy Canyon is unmatched.
“It’s a community thing,” Long said. “You find that niche in the community where you can fill a role and enjoy it, so that’s what you do. …
“We’re here because we want to be.”