HONKY-TONK DELUXE: Tanner Usrey pictured at Billy Bob’s, where he played June 7. (Courtesy Venue)


If you called central set design for the quintessential Texas roadhouse, they’d likely send a replica of Billy Bob’s Texas in the Fort Worth Stockyards.

Lonestars, neon, bulls and beer are the stock and trade of the 120,000 square-foot, rough hewn music hall that opened on April 1, 1981, in a former cattle barn. Over the past 43 years, the 6,000-capacity Billy Bob’s Texas has hosted a non-stop stream of boot scooters, bull riders and country stars including Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, George Strait, Garth Brooks and Miranda Lambert, who was the first female to sell out back-to-back nights in 2011.

“There’s no other place like Billy Bob’s,” said Brandon Coleman of Red Clay Strays, who sold out their June 27 show. “It’s The Ryman of Texas. All of our heroes have played there at one point or another. Being able to follow in their footsteps lets us know we must be doing something right.”

Dubbed “The World’s Largest Honky-Tonk,” the venue features all the western lifestyle tropes including line dance classes, pool tables and barbecue – B.B. King was so fond of the ribs that he had them shipped to him on the road.

Bull riding began in 1982 during the height of the “Urban Cowboy” craze and continues today with shows each Friday and Saturday for a $6 add-on to a concert ticket. Since the snot slinging commenced, 50,000 bucking bulls have made hay at Billy Bob’s, with world champion riders including Ty Murray and Tuff Hedeman competing in the tight-cornered arena that was originally an auction ring.

GIDDY UP: Billy Bob’s Texas hosts regular bull riding, which is included in a concert ticket for an extra $6. (Courtesy Venue)

Authentic at the core, you won’t find a mechanical bull at Billy Bob’s Texas, but there is a stuffed replica for photos. There is no disco ball but instead a mirrored, rhinestone saddle sparkles over the dance floor.

If it seems like a television or movie set, it’s because it’s been one on multiple occasions including “Over the Top” with Sylvester Stallone, “Baja Oklahoma” with Nelson, “Pure Country” with Strait and a bull-riding episode of “Walker, Texas Ranger.” Country trio Midland recorded their “Burn Out” music video on the dance floor. It’s been viewed 67 million times.

“In real life and what’s being portrayed on the big screen, people are so interested now – it’s cool again,” said Amanda Banda, marketing director at Billy Bob’s Texas. “I see so many people adapting to western culture and it’s great.”

Even with the success of “Yellowstone,” which plans to tape scenes in the venue, Hollywood couldn’t write some of the real-life Billy Bob’s Texas lore.

In the early ‘80s, Merle Haggard bought a round that was one for the Guinness Book of World Records with 5,095 drinks served, using 40 gallons of Canadian Club and racking up a $12,737 bar tab. In February 1986, Hank Williams Jr. set a club record for the most bottles of beer sold at a show with 16,000 – a feat that lasted 30 years until 16,800 bottles were sold at a Ryan Bingham show in January 2014.

Garth Brooks was a relative unknown in 1989 when he played his first show at the club for a $5 cover for 500 people; four months later he had a sellout. Billy Bob’s Texas has so much history, they created a Wall of Fame in 1989 to commemorate artist appearances with their handprints in cement.

Billy Bob’s Texas has welcomed more than 17 million visitors and claimed the trophy for Club of the Year from the Academy of Country Music 10 times. The venue’s global fame has been influenced by its music series Live at Billy Bob’s Texas, which started in December 1998 with Pat Green. The series has become one of the largest curated collections with 50 live records.

A country music stronghold, Billy Bob’s Texas has opened the swinging doors to artists outside the format, including ZZ Top who opened for Billy Bob Thornton, and Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band, who performed in 2001. Today, diversity is part of the booking strategy.

HANDS ON: The Wall of Fame at Billy Bob’s was added in 1989 to commemorate artist appearances. (Courtesy Venue)

“The strategy isn’t so much who we bring, but who we want to attract,” explained Banda, who started 17 years ago in the ticketing office. “That’s simple: everybody.”

Engaging customers with a variety of admission and VIP options is equally important. Renovations during and post COVID removed many of the poles that obstructed the stage and the roof was raised to improve acoustics. Even though they have room for 6,000 patrons they sell 5,000 for a standing show and 4,500 for a seated show to maintain a higher quality of service with 32 bar stations. The Country Club, which offers advance ticket access and other perks to members, is completely sold out in 2024. Admission to enter the club on non-show days is from $3 to $5 making it a family and tourist-friendly attraction.

Open weekdays, the venue has a retail store and Honky Tonk Kitchen. Visitors can leisurely walk through the building scanning QR codes to get the backstory on memorabilia including historic photos and guitars. Preserving the legacy was a priority for owners Holt Hickman, Don Jury, Steve Murrin and Billy Minick. Billy Bob’s ownership still includes their families along with basketball entrepreneur Donnie Nelson.

“We are primarily a concert venue, but during the week we highlight all the history,” said Banda.

Recently, Billy Bob’s Texas converted a storage space into the 81 Club. A few steps from the club, the 600-cap, 10,000 square foot facility is currently hosting a murder mystery show and is primed for private events and concerts with developing acts not ready for the main stage.