By Joseph T. O’Connor Explore Big Sky Senior Editor
“It’s bulls and blood/It’s dust and mud… ” – Garth Brooks
BIG SKY – Had the 2013 PBR occurred in 1991, Garth Brooks would have found the inspiration for his country hit, “Rodeo” here in Big Sky. This song captures the energy of those two wild summer nights.
Broadcast live around the globe on pbrnow.com, the third annual Big
Sky Professional Bull Riders Touring Pro Division event sold out days before the first bull crashed out of the gate.
On July 31 and Aug. 1, the vacant lots behind Big Sky Town Center’s stage swarmed with close to 5,000 locals and visitors sporting belt buckles, boots and Stetsons, here to live the dream they call the PBR.
Ryan Hamilton, project manager at Big Sky Town Center, called it, “almost too good to be true.
“My family and I watched the second night [online] and it was indeed epic,” Hamilton said in an email. “We huddled around the computer to check it out – we laughed, we cringed, we really enjoyed it.”
At 5 p.m. on day one, AC/DC cover band Hell’s Belles was completing their sound check, the smells of pulled pork, falafel and burgers wafting from nearby vendor tents. Choppers, Scissorbills and Gourmet
Gals, among others, were prepping for an influx of hungry PBR-goers and cowboys, and the all-female band was tuning up to rock Big Sky.
Behind the chute gates, bull rider Caleb “Pistol” Robinson was prepping in his own way. He sat quietly on a steel guard, rosining the glove he’d use to hang onto bulls that had other ideas. Returning to action this summer after breaking his legs in a 2012 ride, staying calm is the only option, he says.
“You got a 1,600-pound bull in a steel chute,” said Robinson, 29, hailing from Burleson, Texas. “The only give is in your body. The prayer and everything – you get that stuff done before you get on his back.”
The bulls, delivered from stock contractor Chad Berger Bucking Bulls in Mandan, N.D., were also calm. Smackdown chewed straw while Let ‘Er Rip stared down a pair of young fans watching through the fencing. But the storm was coming.
The wind picked up from the southwest as fans settled into the bleachers, ordering Pabst Blue Ribbon tall boys from passing vendors. Brandon Hale’s voice ripped into the crowd:
“Funny thing about wildfire… ” began the voice-over by lead singer of The Dirty Shame, who would perform the second night. By the end of the intro video, fans were on their feet and announcer Brandon Bates gave the microphone to PBR CEO Jim Haworth to commence the program.
“I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” said Haworth, who attended the Big Sky PBR for the first time this year after catching wind of its previous successes. “When you look at this setting, it speaks for itself.”
Just before intermission, storm clouds swirled around Lone Mountain, sentinel in the distance. A 20-minute rain delay ensued, stalling the event, but many fans stuck it out in rain ponchos or with umbrellas.
Entertainer Flint Rasmussen kept spirits high with classic dance moves and jokes on the “beer crowd” watching from atop the Geyser Whitewater busses.
On what Rasmussen called the “Merlot crowd” side – the Golden Buckle section – Gov. Steve Bullock sat with Montana Department of Commerce Director Meg O’Leary, former sales and marketing director at Big Sky Resort, joking and laughing with the fans sitting around them.
“I tried [to ride a bull], but they got a little nervous about me raising hell,” said the first term governor and Helena native, smiling. “No, I didn’t actually do much bull riding growing up, so I’m better on this side of the fence.”
Bullock, who could only attend the first night, came to support Montana tourism, he said, and the role the PBR has come to play in it. “For the million people we have [living] here, there’s 10 times that
many who come visit Montana every year,” he said. “And it’s great getting to talk to people from all over that are excited about what they see here in Big Sky, something that’s nationally publicized.”
By the end of the competition that night, Australian rider Jared Farley was atop the leader board, foreshadowing a showdown on the dirt for day two. Riders and bulls were worked, but the crowd sauntered out of the arena to the first licks of Hell’s Belles and jumped headlong into the blistering show of guitars and stage antics.
At 5 p.m. on day two, it was clear, warm and windy. The forecast called for severe thunderstorms. The general admission will call line reached back to the stage where The Dirty Shame would play their Montana brand of Outlaw country for more than two hours later that evening.
John and Debby Zahnow of Harbor Springs, Mich. were visiting Bob Vanyo, who splits his time between Big Sky and Boca Grande, Fla. They stood in line, hat brims fluttering in the breeze. All three were still
reeling from the first night.
“We stayed in the rain the whole time,” Mr. Zahnow said. “It’s unbelievable to see these young guys put their lives in their hands for eight seconds.”
As the evening progressed, the wind subsided and the skies remained clear, appeasing the more than 2,000 attendees. The Golden Buckle tent, catered by the Yellowstone Club, filled quickly with YC members
and celebrities. Michael Johnson, former Olympian and current world record holder in the 400-meter dash, sipped a drink with his wife and friends and talked about bull riding.
“I’d rather be running against one than riding on one,” he said of the bulls. “It’s not my first rodeo – I’m from Texas.”
Vendors again lined the perimeter around the stage selling pulled pork barbecue, cowboy hats and T-shirts. A palpable buzz filled the air.
In the arena, riders were holding their own, with Casey Hayes of Liberal, Kansas, leading after the first go. But Jared Farley was on his heels. Farley rode 3-year-old bull Loco Motion for eight seconds in style, scoring the event’s only 91.5-point ride and leaving Hayes in a precarious spot.
“He has to hit a walk-off homerun,” said announcer Bates. He did not. His bull, How We Roll, tossed Hayes a curve and threw the rider after five seconds.
Farley, who won just over $13,000, as well as the trophy bronze of a bull and rider called “Sky Ride,” described his final ride in his thick Aussie accent:
“The bull really blew out of there and then turned back and to the left into my hand, which is what I like. The longer he went, the faster and stronger and harder he got. It’s just one of them things that, when you get a bull like that, you’re supposed to ride him and make the most out of him.”
Farley has ridden bulls since he could walk. His father and two brothers are bull riders. He says when he’s sitting in the chute he tries not to think about anything. Having ridden as much as he has, gut reaction is the only thing he depends on. And while he knows about the dangers of the sport, he’s learned to live with them.
“I look at guys jumping motorbikes over cliffs and swimming with sharks and all that sort of stuff. This is just what I know. It’s the way I was brought up.”
And Big Sky won Farley over, he said, comparing the beauty of the mountains with that of his coastal home of Kempsey in New South Wales, Australia.
“This is probably the best [Touring Pro] event I’ve ever been to.”
Have you ever tried talking like an auctioneer? It’s tough, but J.R. Scott has it down.
At 6 p.m. on both evenings at the Big Sky PBR, Scott, a manager at North Dakota’s Herreid Livestock Market, took the stage in the Golden Buckle tent to sell off eight teams of five riders to lucky bidders during the Calcutta auction.
Speaking fast into the mic, Scott went back and forth along with bidders in the crowded tent, as they raised their hands to indicate a bid. The money raised on each night was collected in a “pot,” and
subsequently half was split between two nonprofits, while half was paid back to the top three performing groups each night, incrementally.
More than $43,500 was raised in total, and the two nonprofit agencies receiving Calcutta funding – Big Sky Community Corp. and the Yellowstone Park Foundation – received more than $10,000 apiece.
“Sharing the proceeds from the auction with BSCC, including us in the Yellowstone Club tent and having YPF staff as volunteers were all very special,” said YPF President Karen Kress.
Big Sky PBR Touring Pro Division results
1. Jared Farley – $11,407 Plus Bounty Bull 50/50 $1,500 + $725.
2. Chase Outlaw – $7,667.00
3. Sean Willingham – $4,768.50
4. Kasey Hayes – $5,984.00
5. Jory Markiss – $3,253.80
6. Gage Gay – $1,047.20
7. Lachlan Richardson – $2,468.40 (High placement in first long round)
8. Nathan Schaper – 523.60
Two competitors were given an extra ride on a Bounty Bull after the first round of the Big Sky PBR. Great Falls native Matt Triplett made the L&K Real Estate Bounty Bull ride and won $1,000 in cash on the spot.
The second Bounty Bull award was raised through a 50/50 ticket raffle. If the rider made it eight seconds, half of the money raised would go to a winning ticket holder and half would be given to the rider.
Sitting in first place, Jared Farley was given a chance. He made the ride, winning $725 for himself and a lucky ticket holder. Farley also received $1,500 for successfully riding the Lone Pine Builders Bounty Bull. – M.H.