Hilton brings a new flavor to rodeo

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Sound director Josh "Hambone" Hilton is one of several award winners who works the annual Austin County Fair's rodeo every October.

There was a time that Josh “Hambone” Hilton did just about anything he could to be involved in rodeo.

No matter the task, he kept his eyes and ears open to every experience. Like a sponge, he ingested every ounce of knowledge, hoping that one day he’d be able to put it all to use.

That day came a few years ago. Though he’s best known for being the first Music Director of the Year in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association in 2017, there’s much more to Hilton. In the world of professional rodeo, he has become a go-to guy for many in the business when it comes to production and giving fans the best experience they can get.

“To call him a music director is such an insult, because he is so much more involved,” said Boyd Polhamus, a four-time PRCA Announcer of the Year who has worked the National Finals Rodeo 21 times in his career. “I’d call him a quality-control coach. He’s looking over the overall production. He sees it all, because his job is to play music in conjunction with what is happening.

“He has a very good eye for production. He’s been trained in it and understands it.”

Born and raised around rodeo in the tiny village of Sidney, Iowa, Hilton utilizes every experience he’s ever had into the business at hand. He’s seen so much in the game, and he has an arsenal of sounds, gadgets and music to make everything melt together flawlessly.

“My dad rode bulls, and my brother and I grew up rodeoing,” said Hilton, who now lives in Weatherford, Texas, with his wife, Whitney. “It was always part of us, and I always wanted to be around it. The Sidney rodeo has always been so much to me, because of being around and working with guys like Jerry Dorenkamp and Scott McClain. It was a huge thing for those guys to come to town.”

Now he is one of those guys. He travels the country, not only providing the sound effects for events but also helping create new ways to entertain audiences. He was one of the guiding forces behind Bullfighters Only, an freestyle bullfighting organizations that features the greatest athletes in the game as they tangle with aggressive and agile beasts that were bred for that kind of fight.

It all developed because of his relationship with Las Vegas Events, who hired Hilton to handle production for various events across the Nevada desert town during the 10-day NFR.

“I had the idea to do bullfighting at the arena at Cowboy Christmas,” he said. “I talked to Aaron Ferguson about the idea, and he was all in. He took it full bore. That was just supposed to be a one-time bullfight. By the time the event came around (in December 2015), it was a whole new beast. Ferg’s vision was perfect for it.”

But so is Hilton’s. He introduced electronic dance music to the bullfights. It was innovative and remains a key ingredient in the BFO format.

“They wanted a whole new look, feel and sound to freestyle bullfighting,” Hilton said. “Now that style is being used everywhere.”

Now four years later, Bullfighters Only is the premier freestyle bullfighting organization in the world. The year-end championship will take place over those same 10 days of the NFR. But as the key production consultant for Las Vegas Events, Hilton continues to thrive in his element.

“Josh is just a very likeable person, and that’s what helped him not only being good at what he does, but when he’s around people, he’s just a fun person,” said Benje Bendele, a mentor to Hilton who has worked as sound director of every NFR since 2000. “People don’t want to be like him; they want to be him.

“He has been involved in several rodeos with production prior to becoming a music director. That carries over. He’s not afraid to speak up, and that’s a great trait to have. He’s also a good front man. For Las Vegas Events to trust him, to hire him to take care of so many stages, means a lot. That’s a great recommendation, because there’s a lot of production for those stages.”

Not bad for a man who grew up in a town of just 1,000 in Iowa’s southwestern corner. He has invested heavily into his business – he has spent more than $100,000 in equipment and sound alone – but it is paying off. He’s come a long way from his beginnings.

“The first sound system I bought was $12,000,” Hilton said. “I remember, because Mike Cervi loaned it to me. He said to get what I needed and to pay him back when I could. Now the technology has changed the game so much. I blame Benje a lot, because he’s pushed this industry to the level it’s at.”

There are dozens of music directors involved in rodeo. In 2017, the PRCA opted to recognize the best of them for the first time by creating the Music Director of the Year award. Based on a vote of PRCA members, Hilton earned the first honor. He’s up for the award again this year and will learn his fate during the awards ceremony in December at Las Vegas.

“That award was huge,” he said. “To have legendary announcer and my friend, Bob Tallman, call my name was amazing. I live in Texas now because of Bob. He married my wife and I. That was really special to have him say my name.”

And like his mentors Tallman, Bendele and Polhamus, Hilton has become one of the preeminent men in his field in ProRodeo.

“He doesn’t just have one or two sound effects he has an arsenal of sound effects,” Polhamus said. “He’ll be able to play it even if it’s never happened at a rodeo before. He’s part entertainer, too. His entertainment value is outstanding, because he has a great sense of humor. He’s not lazy, and it shows in every performance.

“It’s not an easy task. They can do so much more than somebody blowing a horn. If you’re one of the four or five that are super good in this industry, you’re worth a lot to rodeos.”


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