By Bella Butler EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – The first Big Sky PBR in 2011 was both a dream and a gamble; a vision to ignite soul within the community and provide a sense of place for the amalgamation of cowboys, ski bums and up-and-coming developers. There’d never been anything like it in the resort town, and creators Eric Ladd and Megan Paulson could only wonder: Will this work? It did. Big time.
Ten years later in 2021, the single day event has blossomed into 10 days of festivities leading up to three nights of bull riding that easily compare to the sport’s top events of the year.
This year, the Big Sky PBR will kick off on Thursday, July 22 at 7 p.m., preceded by live music by David Gautreau and followed by Music in the Mountains at Len Hill Park with Magnolia Boulevard. Jason Boland & the Stragglers will close out Friday night’s bull riding and to cap off the electric championship round on Saturday night, world-touring artist Robert Earl Keen will hit the stage.
The Big Sky event, which has won PBR event of the year seven times, is jam-packed with excitement. “Our crowd is louder than the Vegas world finals, our crowd is more engaged than Madison Square Garden on Friday night,” said Ladd, who is also the publisher of Explore Big Sky. “That energy that’s created is truly unique to the sport.”
Though the event contends with big stadium shows, the Big Sky venue is particularly special. The intimate venue provides every viewer seating no more than 150 feet from the action and in perfect view of the monumental Lone Mountain.
“When you can put fans so close to the action like at the Big Sky PBR, the energy literally transfers from the arena to the crowd,” said Paulson, CEO of Outlaw Partners.
There’s a special allure to witness man versus beast, Paulson said, adding that part of the sport’s novelty is that the athletes are both the riders and the bulls.
“Each ride is unique, and when you put a 1,600-pound animal up against 175-pound humans and challenge them to stay on for eight seconds, it’s going to be a good show,” she said.
The three nights of bull riding are packed with adrenaline and drama, but as many some of the most loyal fans in the community have described over the years, the Big Sky PBR is about more than bull riding.
“The lifetime of memories it’s created for tens of thousands of fans is something to be proud of,” said Paulson.
When Ladd first took the leap of faith to bring PBR to Big Sky, the original premise was to build community. Big Sky Resort opened in 1974 and the town since has been known primarily for its resort association. Ladd started to ask the question of what distinguishes a town from a resort. Events, he thought, are a way to unlock the core attributes of a town: soul, connection and tradition.
Nowadays, he believes PBR is playing a big role on the pathway toward community. From the revenue the event brings to surrounding business owners to the mutton bustin’ trophies that still adorn kids’ dressers to the more-than $1 million that the event has brought in for charity, PBR in Big Sky has become much more than its brief title would suggest.
“I pay homage to those early years because without all the barn raising community support it would not happen,” Ladd said. “It’s now something that has its own systems, momentum and business structure around it to where it can live beyond us all.”
This weekend, PBR will kick up dust once again in Big Sky, celebrating 10 years of community connection and looking forward to 10 more.