As I approach one group of riders, pen out and notebook open, the talk quickly turns to sex. A high-scoring Australian named Brendon Clark speaks loudly of "skanky bitches." Bull-riding groupies used to be dubbed "buckle bunnies," in keeping with the Western theme. Now, a shade of hip-hop culture has apparently filtered in, providing another layer for the marketing campaign.
When I walk away, and they no longer think I am listening, Clark and his tribe stop the bawdy talk and go back to bulls, comparing notes about them -- which ones go left out of the chute, which go right, and which go every which way.
Considering that top bulls throw their riders 90 percent of the time, and that one out of every 12 rounds results in an injured rider, the bravado is understandable. Unlike other major sports, these players are paid only if they win. If all you do is get thrown, you end up broke -- sometimes literally.
Brown is not one of the swaggering types, nor is he painfully deferential like some of the younger rookies. He seems almost dismissively comfortable.
"When I first got on (a bull), I was just trying it out because I was bored," he says. "My mom's always been sort of a horse nut, had horses since I was born, so I was used to being on the back of an animal. Most of the time I was too lazy to throw a saddle on it, so I got a pretty good feel for an animal underneath me."
I tell him that I am drawn to this sport because of the animals. In a world increasingly cut off from non-human life, it seems significant that a popular event entangling men with beasts survives. The sport seems almost bestial to me, shocking to more civilized sensibilities.
Pretty much every rider I've said this to has responded either with a blank stare or a tired refrain about how you just gotta hold on for eight seconds. Brown, at least, entertains my thought for long enough to say that the animal doesn't actually make that much difference.
"For me, the ride isn't always on an animal," he says. "Surfing, spear-fishing, rock climbing. I had a job working at a glider field and I'd get to go fly at the end of the day. I've always been kind of an adrenaline junkie, I guess."
"But there's a bull involved this time," I say. "A live animal."
"It's not about the bull," he says. "It's about riding it."
"So, could you just as easily be a NASCAR racer?"
Brown ponders for a second, then nods, "Yeah."
Still, this PBR show feels like a fundamentally primal event. It is not NASCAR. It's not football. There are no extraneous balls or hoops; no pucks, no nets, no teams. It is nothing but man and bull, and that puts it in its own category altogether.