Fans and riders brave an hour of Wild West weather
By Jack Reaney and Hudson Willett
Editor’s note: Outlaw Partners is the publisher of Explore Big Sky and is the producer of Big Sky PBR.
The 12th annual Big Sky PBR opened on Thursday night at the Big Sky Events Arena, featuring 40 cowboys and a one-hour thunderstorm delay—a de facto tent party.
Through an afternoon of westerly gusts, the sun still beamed on the arena during the opening ceremony. Around 6:20 p.m., a ladder truck from the Big Sky Fire Dept. raised a grand American flag, and recent Lone Peak High School graduate Emily Graham sang the national anthem.
“We’ve been waiting 364 days for this moment,” said Eric Ladd, chairman and CEO at Outlaw Partners, in his introductory statement.
Cord McCoy, famed bull stock contractor, gave his own two cents.
“These bulls don’t know it’s Thursday night,” he said. “So it’s gonna be rank, it’s gonna be good.”
Montana cowboy Dakota Louis received a pair of special introductions, both during the opening ceremony and before his ride—when a rogue bull made a dramatic escape into Town Center at last year’s PBR, Louis was one of three cowboys who wrangled it on horseback.
‘It’s evolved so much’
Another special honor was given to retired cowboy Beau Hill during the opening ceremony.
Hill remembers a “pretty rowdy” scene 13 years ago, when he became the Big Sky PBR’s first-ever champion. Since then, he said, “it’s evolved so much.”
Despite his victory, Hill didn’t return to the event until 2023. After being honored on the dirt, he spoke with EBS. The fifth-generation Montanan said it was a big opportunity to ride in his home state, and a big motivator to do well.
“I took a lot of pride in that, to be from Montana, show up to this event and be able to win,” he said.
Back in 2011, he secured third place but had the option for a re-ride—a sort of double-or-nothing gamble.
“I don’t know why the hell I took it, but I did,” Hill recalled. “Well, I know why I took it—to win first.”
Of course, the gamble paid off. He said it was “unreal” to get that win.
Hill retired in 2015 after competing at the PBR National Finals in 2014. He’s grateful for his 22-year professional career, longer than most.
“I think I was more nervous walking out there today than I was when I was gettin’ on [the bull],” Hill said. “I’m just very grateful that they invited me back here, to take care of me, and to introduce me like I’m somebody, you know?”
When the rodeo began, it didn’t take long for a qualifying ride. Third out of the gates, Conner Halverson broke the ice at the 12th annual Big Sky PBR. The energy hardly wavered through the night.
“I’ve been around the world a few times and Big Sky is my favorite stop,” Cord McCoy said during the event.
Flint Rasmussen, the revered PBR rodeo clown, shared a similar sentiment. Months away from retirement, he said he’s proud that Big Sky will be one of his final stops.
Among his antics, Rasmussen brought his spirit to the Murdoch’s dance competition. One competitor was selected from the crowd from each of the three bleachers: Trudy from New Jersey, Scott from Texas, and Paul from Kentucky.
Paul, it turned out, had won this dance-off before.
With astounding dance moves, Paul, whose accolades include a five-year stint as the University of Kentucky mascot, was crowned champion again on Thursday night. He was still out of breath and shirtless when he spoke with EBS.
“I’m tired as hell,” Paul said, when a couple fans asked if he was physically OK and offered to buy him a new shirt—he’d torn his in half during the performance.
“It’s pretty great,” Paul said of his second time at the Big Sky PBR. “We have such a good time, I talk about it every year.”
Juniors bust chops on the dirt
“There’s that zero percent chance of rain we heard about,” the emcees joked as storm clouds approached from the southwest.
As the arena lights clicked on, 6-year-old cowgirl Quinn Welker brought the crowd to their feet in excitement with the winning ride in the mutton bustin’ competition.
Shortly after, around 7:45 p.m., Big Sky’s version of a sandstorm raged across the parking lot as a thunderstorm blew into the arena followed by a one-hour storm delay.
Fans retreated to the tents, sharing refreshments and hope that the action would continue and more thrilling rides would follow.
“Just to be clear we stopped for the lightning. Rodeos don’t stop just for rain,” Rasmussen told the crowd as the arena refilled and the bull riders prepared for their return to action.
After a handful of rides, the first night of Big Sky PBR came to a close. The top four riders were recognized on the scoreboard, and Brandon Chambers (with a score of 86.50) stood in a ring of fire beside the gates.
Eli Vastbinder (84.00), Brady Fielder (83.50) and Vitor Losnake (83.00) will enter the second night near the top of the field.