I first discovered the Montana Testicle Festival in 2005, via an old VHS tape I bought at a thrift store. It came in a bright red case with a simple black-and-white label that read "The 16th Annual TESTICLE FESTIVAL©, Volume II, 1998. 16 Years of Having a Ball!" Then, in smaller type, "WARNING: Contains frontal nudity and lots of balls."
I wasn't quite prepared for what I saw, despite the clearly printed label—the "Itty Bitty Titty" contest, "Big Dick" competition, and bull-testicle eat-off that soon appeared onscreen were branded into my brain for years to come, not unlike a propriety tag burned into a cowhide.
Flash-forward to 2007, when I decided to attend the five-day festival that's been happening in Clinton, Montana, since 1982. I piled three girlfriends into a rental car, and the four of us drove seven hours from Seattle, across the state of Washington and a small chunk of Idaho, into western Montana for the event, which had haunted my dreams ever since picking up that VHS. That year, we watched not only the Testicle Festival's main event—the competitive eating of bull balls (a.k.a. "Rocky Mountain oysters") —but also a women's hot oil wrestling contest, a women's wet-T-shirt event, and a men's "big ball" competition (basically a "wet underwear show" with dudes).
"If I see another naked nudist wearing a cock ring, I am going to barf," said one of my pals. We left before I had the chance to try the "oysters," and my curiosity wasn't sated—there was something uniquely surreal about a festival where a bunch of bikers gathered to eat fried cattle genitals. Last weekend, I finally went back to Montana for the 33rd annual festival to properly document the strange spectacle and eat bull balls for the first time.
At high noon on Saturday, August 1, in 97-degree heat, I arrived at the Rock Creek Lodge near Interstate 90, Exit 126. The area was surrounded by dozens of motorcycles, RVs, tents, and attendees ready to munch on some nuts. I got some beer and took in the scenery—bikers, locals, and noticeably fewer naked people than my last visit. Two people hauled out what the cook would later tell me were 30 pounds of sliced and fried cow testicles. They smelled good, even with the sun beating down on them. I guess anything battered and fried kinda smells good. Two women and seven men sat down on some picnic tables outside the lodge. After a proper countdown, a four-minute timer was set, and real Testicle Festival began.
Competitive eating contests are always brutal to watch, but knowing that this one spawned out of a tradition of ranchers meeting up in the area to brand and castrate their cattle together made it even harder to digest—literally and figuratively. A biker named "Big Daddy" stripped off his T-shirt that just said "VIKING" on it, and went hard on his paper plate over stacked with steaming hot cow balls. At the end of the first plate, he noticeably looked nauseous. Another women took a ball break, and quickly took a hit of weed, likely for the same reason.
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In the end, Matt Powers, owner of the lodge and of the festival, won, eating two plates (over two pounds) of cow testies in under four minutes. He smiled through some visible discomfort for some photos.
"Out of ten competitions, in ten years, I've lost twice," Powers told me. To win you have to eat "at least a half pound in a minute." Powers stuck up for the health benefits of bull balls, saying, "They do a body good—a great source of protein, omega 6, and fatty acids." He'd even eat them if they were roasted rather than fried. He's not the only one who thinks so. The festival cook told me that attendees had gone through 600 or 700 pounds of balls last year.
When he's not organizing the Montana Testicle Festival, Powers is the head coach of the state's number-one fight team, the Dog Pound. He also coaches wrestling and is in the works of organizing the Montana State Hempfest in September.
"Between Testy Fest, my fighters, and my efforts to legalize marijuana, some might say I'm Montana's most hated man," he said. "But I'm really a nice guy! I'm just trying to make a living, you know?"
Guy, a.k.a. Big Daddy, a.k.a. the Shirtless Viking, a regular attendee of the Testy Fest, told me that they don't, in fact, taste like chicken. "No, ma'am!" he said while pulling on his suspenders. "They taste like balls. Breaded balls." He told me that no two balls are the same, and some of the treats on his plate in the eating competition were soggy, while others were crispy. Another participant added that he thought they tasted like chicken gizzard, and I overheard another woman tell her boyfriend, "They taste like chicken nuggets—the cheap frozen ones, like what we get from Walmart."
I tried one myself—"Suck it down, girl! It's good!" Big Daddy shouted as I chewed—and underneath the breading, it reminded me not of oysters but of geoduck (pronounced "gooey duck")—the penis of the sea. Maybe I just had genitals on the brain—and, well, in my mouth.
"I'm so fucking full right now. I can't even drink a beer," said an attendee named Cecil the Red. "That's bad, if I can't even fit a beer in there among all the balls." When I asked if he'd be interested in trying the balls if they were prepared differently, he thought about it for a minute before answering, "I kinda wonder what they'd taste like on a barbecue. That might not be so bad."
"When I was a kid, I worked near a farm that would cut the young cows balls off and slice 'em thin, and serve them with eggs," he added. "They called it a calf scramble."
Sean, a festival organizer and the MC of all Testy Fest's events, told me the Undie 500 event is now almost as popular as the ball-eating competition and the ladies wet T-shirt contest. I find it a little hard to believe that watching some grown-ass men and women race around on oversized tricycles in their underwear is entertaining, but you could say the same about watching people eat bull balls.
"Our contests are crazy, but people wanna participate in something and be silly and have fun," Sean says. "Most of the contests involve nakedness and alcohol. Because of this—the nature of the festival—the authorities aren't always too happy about us, but we do everything we can to keep everyone safe. We have free bus rides home, tons of security, and we really do everything we can to make sure no one gets hurt out here. We also donate to charities—this year and last we gave around $5,000 to a charity benefitting testicular cancer."
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