By Bay Stephens EBS Staff Writer
BIG SKY – For the past eight years, the PBR Touring Pro Division has come to Big Sky; it has won national event of the year five times, and grown from a single night of bull riding to three. With a record-setting sell-out time and attendance this year, Big Sky PBR reached over 20,000 fans with four days of events that included a golf tournament and auctions raising money for charity, bull riding and concerts that lit up the night.
Co-produced by Outlaw Partners (the publisher of EBS) and Freestone Productions, and sponsored by Moonlight Basin, Spanish Peaks Mountain Club, Simkins-Hallin, Yellowstone Club, Continental Construction, and many more, Big Sky PBR is packed with action and the Western pride that has become a staple of Big Sky events.
Wednesday, July 25
Big Sky’s Biggest Week kicked off with the second annual Big Sky PBR Golf Tournament at The Reserve at Moonlight Basin, a fundraiser for Western Sports Foundation; followed by a street dance celebration on Town Center Avenue that evening.
One hundred golfers participated in the tournament, including nearly 40 PBR bull riders. The event raised $25,700 for Western Sports Foundation’s mission to advance the health and well-being of rodeo athletes by providing medical, life counseling and financial resources to meet immediate needs and prepare for life beyond the dirt
That night, the rockin’ sounds of The Dirty Shame had people dancing under the lights strung across Town Center Avenue, while enjoying street-side provisions provided by Ousel & Spur Pizza Co., Beehive Basin Brewery, Moe’s BBQ, Alta Palla and HiBall, Scissorbills Saloon, Crooked Fox Bourbon, and Luxe Spirits & Sweets. It was a community affair where the excitement for the days of bull riding and live music to come was in the air.
Thursday, July 26
Before the first night of bull riding, art patrons gathered under the big tent at the PBR arena for the fast-paced Big Sky Art Auction to bid on more than 80 works of art with a total value of $800,000. R. Tom Gilleon’s nine-panel Native American-themed piece “The Setenant” took home the highest bid at $40,000; with another of his pieces taking a close second at $30,000. Kevin Red Star’s “Full Moon Lodge” and Nicholas Coleman’s “Native Camp” both sold for $20,000. Half of the $1,500 sale price of Thomas Mangelson’s photograph “Twilight of the Mustangs” will benefit Montana Land Reliance. Of local note, Big Sky jeweler Shelly Bermont sold a turquoise tribal necklace for $13,000 in addition to her donation of a Tahitian pearl-on-leather bracelet with a retail value of $1,200 to the winning bull rider.
For the first time since PBR stomped into Big Sky, a third night of bull riding was added on Thursday, accompanied by a Calcutta auction with a pot of $9,250, $4,625 of which was added to the pot for weekend’s winning riders.
Announcer Brandon Bates and Montana-born rodeo entertainer, Flint Rasmussen, kept the crowd entertained and in step with the action. Designated Big Sky locals’ night, the opening ceremony honored and celebrated community members and public servants.
Then, in classic PBR form, flames erupted from the arena dirt to spell out “PBR” while nearly 40 bull riders swaggered out, tasseled chaps swinging around their dusty jeans.
With little delay, bulls began bucking, drool catching the sunlight as it flew from their mouths, as riders clung one-handed to the bull rope, a tempest raging beneath them. Some rode the full 8 seconds, but most were pitched to the dirt before the clock hit the magic qualifying number.
In the second ride of the night, Montana’s Matt Triplett rode a strong 86.5 on the back of Like a Boss. Taylor Toves wrested the lead from him four rides later, earning an 87 atop Crazy Horse. Later, Colton Jesse weathered the 8-second storm of Lost Soul to tie Toves for first place. By the end of the night, the leaderboard consisted of a double tie for first and second places, Stetson Lawrence having matched Triplett’s score.
Bates explained to the crowd that, against all odds, they had to resort to a coin toss to decide the evening’s winner because both the bull and ride scores were exactly the same for Jesse and Toves.
Then Bates indicated he was hearing some news from the back of house. “This just got heavy,” he told Rasmussen.
“If I had a nickel for every time I heard that at a bull riding competition,” Rasmussen replied. Apparently, Bates explained, a miscommunication between the judges and the announcers had taken place. Toves had actually scored an 87.5 for the win. Bates was sympathetic to Jesse, saying it was a rough way to lose.
Although Toves was already guaranteed a $2,500 bonus for scoring the most points in the night, he had the opportunity to win another $2,500 if he could ride out one more bull. Toves gave it his best shot but hit the dirt before the 8-second mark, rolling the $2,500 bounty into the next night of competition.
Although disappointed, Toves still walked away with a $2,500 check at the end of the first night of bull riding.
Fans filtered out of the arena and over to Town Center Park where Shovels & Rope played for the Arts Council of Big Sky’s Thursday night concert series, Music in the Mountains. The crowd, a mixed audience of PBR attendees, locals, visitors, and fans from out of town, rivalled that of the Fourth of July concert, according to Arts Council Executive Director Brian Hurlbut. He estimated the audience numbered between 5,000 and 6,000 people.
Families and friends sat on blankets spread over the grassy field while, against a lavender sky, the moon rose behind the stage and Shovels & Rope delivered a twangy, soulful “Birmingham.” The band’s pace quickened as the night deepened, until reaching crescendo for the pulsing crowd dancing in front of the stage.
Friday, July 27
The Friday night Calcutta auction proved to be a different animal than that of Thursday night, racking up a $34,750 pot, half of which benefitted the Gallatin River Task Force. Two carved antler sculptures were also auctioned off to raise money for the Western Sports Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping injured bull riders.
The evening transitioned into bull riding with a fresh energy, and many spectators dressed to the cowboy nines.
Bates introduced representatives from opening ceremony sponsor, Montana State University, including Athletic Director Leon Costello, Women’s Basketball Director Jason Alvine, and Casey Currey, the rodeo team assistant coach who worked all three nights of PBR on the safety team, lassoing obstinate bulls from horseback.
Again, the bull riders entered the arena with their gritty cool, cowboy hats silhouetted by PBR flame plumes, only this time “MSU” burned in the arena dirt. Toves and Triplett stood on the chutes while the crowd took in the night’s competitors. After a prayer and national anthem, cheers ushered in the bucking of bulls.
Rider after rider went toe-to-toe with the beefy bulls beneath them while Rasmussen kept the audience engaged—albeit with occasionally cringe-worthy humor. Every night, he chose people from the stands to compete in the Murdoch’s Dance Your Boots Off contest, which awarded an upgrade to VIP seats on the YETI platform, and gave one lucky fan tickets to the PBR world finals in Las Vegas.
By the end of Friday night, the Long Go-round leaders included Triplett with 86 points on the board, Andrew Alvidrez with 86.5, Mason Taylor with 87, and Alisson De Souza with the high-point ride of 88 on South Texas Gangster.
De Souza styled what Bates called a “picture perfect” 8 seconds on the bounty bull for a bonus $5,000 in addition to his $2,500 high-point bonus, electrifying the crowd and earning an 88.5. When Bates presented the mic to the Brazilian bull rider, he said, “No speak English. Thank you, Big Sky.” The crowd roared out another night of bull riding.
With music that recalled a lonesome Western road cut through wide sage brush fields, The Steel Woods set the mood for a crowd of smooth swing dancing and tight two-stepping in the dirt parking lot just outside the arena. Dust kicked up by dancing boots caught the different colors of the lights painting both the stage and the audience as Jason “Rowdy” Cope made his guitar speak with a steely solo.
Saturday, July 27
If the bidding on Friday night was dramatic for a Calcutta auction, Saturday’s was nothing short of stellar as bids rocketed the pot up to a total of $62,500. With the pot split, Yellowstone Forever received $31,250 to fund their many efforts in Yellowstone National Park as the park’s official nonprofit partner. A beaded Native American War Shirt wall hanging was auctioned for $13,500, all of which went to the Western Sports Foundation.
The bull riding was stiff Saturday as rider after rider hit the dirt before making 8 seconds. It wasn’t until the ninth bull of the night that Derek Kolbaba finally pulled off a ride for 88 points.
Neither Toves nor De Souza rode their bulls to time and Triplett, who was awarded a re-ride early in the night when his bull touched the chute, was bucked off his father’s own bull. Bates pointed out that Big Sky PBR had been a two-score event for almost all the riders, few of them reaching time all three nights.
Ten riders advanced to the championship round, of which only three laid down successful rides. In the middle of the pack, De Souza pinned 89 points on the back of Red Bandana. In the ninth ride, Jesse dialed himself to the maelstrom of No Prisoners, matching the bull move-for-move until his flip dismount, scoring 91.5. The crowd was ecstatic and cheered wildly, then stayed on their feet to bring home the last rider of the night: Montana-born Matt Triplett.
Bad Moon Rising erupted from the chute gate and, for a long 8 seconds, Triplett did his state proud with a cool head and tight movements. The judges gave the 27-year-old athlete an 89.5, stripping Triplett of the lead he’d maintained through Friday and Saturday.
Triplett’s aggregate score of 262 was just shy of Jesse’s 263, while De Souza came in third with 177 points. Jesse hit the award jackpot, making out like a bandit with $21,456, a Gibson guitar, a bronze statue worth over $26,000, a bracelet for his special lady, a bottle of Bozeman Spirits’ Montana 1889 Whiskey, a YETI cooler and, purring as it was driven into the arena, a brand new side-by-side ATV to carry it all.
When Bates asked him what he thought, Jesse seemed overwhelmed.
“Shoot, that’s pretty unbelievable!” he said before thanking PBR CEO Sean Gleason, event producers Andy and Jacey Watson and the Big Sky audience. “And if anybody can help get this thing to Oklahoma, I sure would appreciate it.”
Once free of the limelight, Jesse said he was ecstatic with his win: “Like they said, this is one of the biggest events of the year, especially during the summer. To get a win here … I had to earn it but, heck, I’m just stoked.”
The bucking now over, Big Sky rallied for the grand finale concert by Thunderpussy, an all-female rock band with a sound branded by the rebel spirit. The front row pressed against the stage—and once onto the stage when a man climbed up to join the band members before being escorted off.
After the show, the crowd surrounded the band’s merchandise tent to talk to the musicians, take pictures and get autographs. The band was thrilled to be in Big Sky and to take be a part of PBR.
“Honestly, it’s pretty cool to come here and be embraced as much as we have been. [I] didn’t really know what to expect—never been to Montana before—and it’s been amazing,” bassist Leah Julius told EBS.
“[PBR] is a pretty extraordinary event because this place is beautiful and magical and the people here are the same,” lead vocalist Molly Sides said. “I would say Big Sky has a big embrace.”