Country music, bull riding and Texas BBQ take center stage at Billy Bob’s Texas.
Written by Constance Dunn
On April Fools’ Day 1981, Billy Bob’s Texas opened its doors in the heart of the historic Fort Worth Stockyards. The sprawling venue was the product of two entrepreneurs, Billy Bob Barnett and Spencer Taylor, who fashioned the cattle-barn-turned-department-store into what would quickly become one of the most buzzworthy venues in the state, for country music and more.
Over the years, lions of the genre, from Merle Haggard and Charlie Daniels to Tanya Tucker and George Strait, have taken the stage at “the world’s largest honky-tonk”—a 100,000 square-foot must-stop for both emerging artists and new-country headliners. In April, Miranda Lambert played a sold-out five-night residency at Billy Bob’s, while Thomas Rhett will be headlining a show on May 14. June’s calendar is a country music lover’s dream: outlaw country pioneer Travis Tritt heads onstage on June 4. The following week Jimmie Allen—a country artist who snagged New Male Artist of the Year award at this year’s ACMs—performs, followed by other June appearances by Brantley Gilbert and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
It’s more than just music that brings up to 6,000 folks a night to Billy Bob’s. Along with a jumbo-size dance floor for line dancing, Billy Bob’s Texas boasts an in-house arena for bull-riding on weekends—the live-animal kind; not the mechanical kind. There’s the Honky Tonk Kitchen, which serves up Western staples like Texas cheesesteak and chicken fried steak, and more bars and pool tables than one could count. With its star-studded legacy, which has seen it host blues and rock acts, B.B. King and the Beach Boys among them, and serve as location for TV shows and films, like Walker, Texas Ranger and the Sylvester Stallone’s 1987 wrestling flick Over The Top—there’s lots of celebrity memorabilia showcased. Stop by Billy Bob’s Wall of Fame to peruse autographs by Ringo Starr, Johnny Cash and more, and press your palms into the plaster handprints of country stars displayed along the hallway. (Head’s up Duke fans: step outside and head to John Wayne: An American Experience, the 10,000-square-foot exhibit showcasing the actor’s life and career that’s currently housed at the Stockyards.)
The 40th anniversary of Billy Bob’s Texas recently took place in April. As part of the festivities, Hank Williams Jr. took to the stage with his son Sam, and was joined by Kid Rock and songbird Lambert. As they started their rousing rendition of Williams Jr.’s 1993 hit “Family Tradition” they sang these words, appropriate to say in one of country music’s great homes: “Country music singers have always been a real close family.” Duke was a family man, too.
Photographs courtesy of Billy Bob’s Texas