Finding a new life in Big Sky: bartender Brad Tidwell
Anyone who has been in Big Sky for any amount of time has probably heard the voice of Brad “Mister” Tidwell. Part of that reason is because he shouts when he doesn’t wear his hearing aids – which is often.
“Honey, was that you who called and said you were getting into the shower and will be here in 15 minutes? No? I keep forgetting to put my hearing aids in and I can't tell who's calling or if they're a man or woman,” he was once overheard at his place of work while speaking to a Corral hotel guest.
Corral, Bar Steakhouse & Hotel owner Dave House said he told Tidwell he needed to start wearing the contraptions in his ears. “But then he lost one,” House said while shaking his head.
Tidwell has a presence beyond his loud speaking voice. He is gregarious, kind and honest almost to a fault. An author friend of Tidwell’s gave him three of his books. Tidwell read three pages of one of them and returned them all to his friend saying, “Look, Mister: I appreciate the thought, but these aren’t for me.”
He’s the kind of guy a lot of folks could pour their hearts out to as he pours them a shot of Dr. McGillicuddy’s when they’re having a bad day. Maybe the lack of hearing aids saves him from too many alcohol-induced laments and revelations from patrons.
He’s become one of Big Sky’s colorful and well-regarded characters: In addition to slinging drinks he also slings out compliments to the ladies and high fives to the fellas.
“He’s one of my favorite people in Big Sky,” longtime local Matt “Matty P” Pellerin said. “I may need time for the perfect quip that embodies that legend.”
However, Tidwell’s path to bartending – and Big Sky in general – was wrought with missteps.
“My family had high hopes for me. I was very dynamic and likable. I was sharp,” he said of his youth.
Tidwell said his first step down the wrong path occurred when he tried “dope,” or methamphetamines. “Everyone I know who was on dope like me are dead, in prison or look like they should be dead,” he said.
Rather than in an early grave, Tidwell found himself incarcerated. He was released after a 17-month stint in jail for drug possession and returned to Billings to work. “By the grace of God” he didn’t go to prison. He went in to jail at 140 pounds, and came out weighing 203 pounds, “because I had been all doped-up.”
At that time Tidwell looked around: Nearly all of his coworkers were using heavy drugs. He knew his sobriety – and a chance at life itself – hung on his next decision.
He thought back to a time when he was happy – and clean – and immediately thought of Big Sky, where he had worked at Almart Lodge for a few years and Big Sky Resort from 1985 to 1990. He moved through the ranks quickly at the resort: bartender to bar manager to beverage director. He said he was well-known and respected in the Big Sky community. When he decided to return, he found himself in a conversation with the owners of the Corral: Dave House and Devon White.
“I told ‘em everything – I had been locked up for 17 months and been on dope for eight years. Honey, I went eight years without a phone, a car or an address,” Tidwell said.
House and White needed a little time to think about it.
“The next day Dave called me and said, ‘We're gonna put you to work, Brad. We're going to give you a chance.’ I walked through the door my first day,” Tidwell recalled. “Devon happened to be here. He put his hand out and said, ‘Don't let me down.’”
Tidwell’s job duties included doing the dishes, cleaning rooms and working as a part-time bartender. Within a year he was fulltime bartender.
“And 10 years later, I'm still here,” he said. “I'm proud of that fact.”
When White became ill with a fast-moving cancer in 2017, Tidwell was at his bedside every day. After he died, Tidwell helped load him into the suburban for transport to the funeral home and then “hit every bar in town.”
“I couldn’t get drunk. I came down [to The Corral] about 6 p.m. or so and I had all I could take with hugging, crying and feeling bad,” he said while choking up. “That was my hardest loss in my life – Devon. Dave and Devon kept me off of [dope] for 10 years. I didn’t want to disappoint him. Because of losing him, I fell hard.” Tidwell said it took him a while to right himself after the loss, but eventually he did.
Looking back, he wants kids to know how easy it is to get on drugs and how hard it is to get off of them. He said the drugs dimmed his bright future: “That dope took my memory chip; my learning chip away.”
In the back of his mind he believes he should be in the high school talking to kids: “There is a story in my life about drugs – just say no.”