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Big Sky embraces ‘A piece of the PBR’s history’

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Flint Rasmussen bows to his adoring fans. PHOTO BY TAYLOR ALLEN

As the sun set on a wild Big Sky PBR weekend, Flint Rasmussen retires following a storied career in Western sports


Big Sky’s Biggest Week is produced by Outlaw Partners, publisher of Explore Big Sky.

BIG SKY—On July 20, 21 and 22, the Big Sky Events Arena once again filled its bleachers to the brim, serving as the gathering place for the 12th Big Sky PBR, showcasing some of the best bulls and bull riders, celebrating victory after an 18-year-old rookie’s winning ride, a visit from Professional Bull Riders CEO Sean Gleason, as well as two governors, a presidential candidate, energetic spectators, and as always—breathtaking sunsets.

Once a sagebrush field and an idea, Eric Ladd, chairman and CEO at Outlaw Partners, alongside Andy and Jacey Watson of Freestone Productions and Jim Murphy, joined forces to create something authentic to Montana. Now over a decade later, Big Sky PBR has won Event of the Year nine times consecutively, an honor bestowed within the PBR circuit by the touring cowboys. Surrounded by the quickly developing Big Sky Town Center, the Big Sky Events Arena is one of the last patches that remains unchanged since the event began, and emulates the grit that brings it to life each summer.

“We have 150 events … here in the U.S.,” Gleason said during the night’s Event of the Year award presentation. “We play venues like Madison Square Garden, AT&T Stadium, and out of all of those events, the 9x winner of PBR’s Event of the Year is Big Sky, MT.”

“We owe it all to you, you guys are the greatest fans in bull riding,” he added.

The weekend also staged a standing ovation for an icon in the industry, Flint Rasmussen.

Over his 30 years in the game Rasmussen, in his familiar Cooper Tires jersey, straw cowboy hat and unmistakable mask, has walked (and danced) on a lot of rodeo dirt. He’s become familiar with arenas coast to coast, many boasting audience capacities of over 20,000. But on July 22, it felt fitting in front of 3,200 people at the Big Sky Events Arena on the final night of Big Sky PBR, to clown his last show.

For most of the three-day event, it felt like the 55-year-old rodeo entertainer’s normal routine—dancing to Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA,” offering tongue-in-cheek commentary during the dance-off and flinging his hat at a rowdy bull who promptly about-faced and charged. Driven by decades of honed intuition against 2,000-pound bovines, the rodeo clown hopped onto the arena gates to safety as the audience gasped.

Even the bulls were trying to get their last act with a piece of Western sports history before his retirement.

Flint Rasmussen riles the crowd during night three of Big Sky PBR. PHOTO BY TAYLOR ALLEN

“PBR isn’t just bull riding, PBR is entertainment,” said Gleason during a special segment honoring Rasmussen. “We love to entertain fans, we love to win your hearts and minds and we wouldn’t have done it without ‘The Clown Boy’ as I affectionately call him, Mr. Flint Rasmussen. Flint, we owe you the world—thank you.”

Growing up, rodeo dirt made up much of Rasmussen’s DNA; his father and brother were both rodeo announcers and after summers entertaining between college semesters, the Montana-native’s high school teaching career took a sharp left turn into the arena for good. In 1998, he signed on as the exclusive entertainer for the PBR tour.

“I was successful at it because all I ever wanted to be was some sort of performer,” Rasmussen told EBS, reflecting on his weekend. “It was just my avenue to be in the entertainment business.”

At the Big Sky PBR, announcer Matt West referred to him as “A piece of the PBR’s history.”

“He was the one man we trusted every single weekend to help make those memories,” West said of Rasmussen’s impact on rodeo fans across the country.

He was presented with a gold rifle by Outlaw Partners, an offering of welcome from the community for his service. Rasmussen, who officially announced his retirement in May, told fans that he preferred his final send off to take place here, in Big Sky.

“I come from a town of 1,600 people, Choteau, Montana, and I started at rodeos like Gardiner and Absarokee and Big Timber and Havre, and I know Big Sky’s not exactly like those little towns,” Rasmussen told cheering fans. “I thought, yeah, what the hell, let’s just do the last one at Big Sky and go out with a bang.”

An arena for special victories

The rodeo’s closing night crowned 18-year-old Kade Madsen the Big Sky PBR champion with his 91.5 point ride on a bull named Tulsa Time, a ride that took him so much by surprise that he turned to exit and dropped his hat, only to be collected by Rasmussen, who lifted his arm in victory toward a cheering crowd.

“It’s awesome,” Madsen told EBS shortly after his ride. He acknowledged his older brother, Briggs Madsen, who also rode this weekend. “Just to be here at 18 years old and have this opportunity to ride here with these great athletes and get on these great bucking bulls, it’s just something special.”

The night also crowned the weekend’s PBR Mutton Bustin’ champ, Hayze Louis, who left the dirt with a trophy about the size of himself. Louis’ father, PBR athlete and Browning, Montana-native Dakota Louis, greeted him proudly after his ride.

“I got the same start out there with my dad showing me and stuff,” Dakota said of his son. “I’m very thankful that we get to live in a world with freedom and get to have these opportunities.”

Hayze’s secret?

“Have fun,” he told EBS.

Another young athlete claimed their limelight during the Dance Your Boots Off competition; 12-year-old Big Sky local and freestyle skier Owen Edgar awed the crowd by landing a backflip off the side of the arena gates—all after returning from a 10-day ski training camp at Mount Hood, Oregon.

“I knew that if I got picked I was gonna do a backflip… I wanted to try to walk on the barrel, but it was too heavy to do that,” Edgar said of his routine.

Saturday was a culmination of not only three nights of bull riding but a schedule of events known as Big Sky’s Biggest Week featuring nearly two weeks of family-friendly activities including the Big Sky Community Rodeo presented by the Yellowstone Club, Community Day & Mutton Bustin’, Community Street Dance, golf tournament, bingo night, and three nights of post-PBR live music.

Behind these events follows an ethos of not only community gathering, but also of charity—with a total of $304,800 raised from this year’s Big Sky PBR events. The Big Sky PBR Golf Tournament brought in over $56,000 for Western Sports Foundation, a nonprofit that provides aid to injured cowboy athletes, and the Dick Allgood Community Bingo Night raised $34,800 for Wellness in Action, a nonprofit that provides counseling, wellness and other support services for Big Sky residents.

Josh McCain and Officer Marshall of Big Sky Bravery accept money raised from the Calcutta. PHOTO BY TAYLOR ALLEN

PBR’s nightly Calcutta and 50/50 raffle brought in over $194,000 that benefitted numerous charities including the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Civil Air Patrol, Montana State University Athletics & MSU Rodeo, Big Sky Search and Rescue and Big Sky Bravery.

“I don’t have to explain to people at a rodeo why the star field is facing forward on this flag,” said Officer Marshall, a participant and volunteer for Big Sky Bravery, nonprofit that has helped him and other active duty Special Operations Forces. He shared the dirt on Saturday with organization founder, Josh McCain. In addition to the Calcutta, Marshall auctioned off the flag and call sign patches he wore in combat bringing in an additional $20,000.

“I wore this patch on hundreds of combat operations, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa and elsewhere,” Marshall said. “It’s been there through thick and thin.”

The arena in Big Sky was also the stage for a dramatic thunderstorm on Thursday night during which, true to his craft and unperturbed by the pouring rain, Rasmussen danced to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” while fans waited out a short delay. Friday delivered an adrenaline-dousing Bounty Bull ride on a high-stakes bull, Viper, earning rider Vitor Losnake $20,000; and a visit from Montana Governor Greg Gianforte and North Dakota Governor and presidential candidate, Doug Burgum.

“Hello Big Sky, who’s ready to rodeo?” Gov. Gianforte, accompanied by First Lady Susan Gianforte, riled the crowd on Friday night.

Just before Friday’s PBR during a reception event, Burgum was introduced by fellow North Dakotan and PBR stock contractor Chad Berger, a man who has been moving bulls since the 1960s. Both men voiced their passion for small town values.

“I know that in America, we can win every battle we’re up against because of the kind of people that are in this town tonight,” Burgum said.

A final dance

The night before his show on Saturday, Rasmussen said his daughter Shelby was watching him do his makeup; he couldn’t seem to get it right.

“It just reminded me it was the last time,” he laughed. “For my girls, this is all they know, this is dad’s job. It’s been a long time, day after day, 100 times a year.”

“Montana is the only place I’ve lived,” he added. “Why not end this great ride anywhere else then where it started, in Montana?”

Just as other entertainment legends have left their mark, Rasmussen sunsetted his career on the dirt doing what he does best—engaging with his crowd through the art of song. Surrounded by a galaxy of cellphone lights bobbing respectfully in the full stands of the Big Sky Events Arena, the rodeo clown pulled out a harmonica, and with the help of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” on the loudspeaker, danced for us all one last time.

The article includes reporting by Jack Reaney.

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