LET'S CHAT ABOUT BILLY BOB'S TEXAS


It’s hard to say exactly where that most famous of verbiage about everything being “bigger in Texas” might have first originated from. Was it a starry-eyed traveler new to these parts; or perhaps a local cowpoke who was schooling some greenhorn on the benefits of the Lone Star State? Whoever it was, they were right on the money. Everything is bigger here, from the wide-brimmed hats to the wide-open spaces; from the rhinestone belt buckles to the saucer-sized chicken fried steaks you can feast on in Sundance Square. Texas and in particular, Fort Worth, have amassed a huge reputation for giving both locals and visitors an experience worthy of that old cliché. And if it’s music and entertainment that you want done up big, then you can pull on your snakeskin boots and bring your rockabilly swagger on down to the one and only place in Cowtown that does it bigger than anyone else: Billy Bob’s Texas.

To say that Billy Bob’s got its start in the early 80’s is both true and a bit of a disservice. The venue that countless Texans scoot their boots to did become one of the biggest entertainment meccas of DFW in 1981. The building itself, however, got its start as far back as 1910 when it originated as an open-air barn space for prize cattle during the burgeoning years of the Fort Worth Stock Show. In fact, the now-famous “slanted” layout of Billy Bob’s floor space owes its design to the cattlemen that first created it (to make animal clean-up a bit easier). The space later morphed into both an airplane plant and a retail store before eventually being re-born into the venue that draws hundreds of thousands of patrons every year.

The reason for that impressive amount of attendance is fairly self-explanatory when you walk through the doors. Some of the most popular artists in country music and beyond have played Billy Bob’s, from icons like Willy Nelson, Hank Williams Jr. and Randy Travis to emerging artists like Ryan Bingham, Hayes Carll, and The Damn Quails. In fact, the club’s Marketing Director Pam Minick even shared an amusing anecdote about past headliner Ringo Starr’s love of both “country music and vintage western shirts”. According to Minick, the fact that “a Beatle played here” is a testament to both Billy Bob’s appeal and the diversity of talent that the club draws year after year.

Not only does Billy Bob’s unique design allow for a large main concert stage (with two smaller stages) and ample recessed seating in the middle of the building to accommodate such talent, but the surrounding areas offer enough variety and diverse forms of entertainment to satisfy everyone from the most hardened of western roughnecks to the youngest of whippersnappers.  After a short walk down the hallway adorned with all manner of country and western memorabilia, you’ll find a large billiards room. Not a few tables, mind you; an entire room. There’s also a Texas-sized gaming area with carnival-style attractions for visitors of all ages. Guests can also commemorate their experience by paying a visit to the eclectic gift shop offering everything from T-shirts and hats to custom jewelry and assorted leather goods.

The piece de resistance however, or as locals would say, the tall hog at the trough, is the gigantic indoor entertainment center that offers up nothing less than live, professional bull riding. You won’t find any mechanical bulls at Billy Bob’s, only the real deal, ridden by some of rodeo’s most accomplished sportsmen. There’s nothing like watching an unassuming cowboy go toe-to-toe with a 1500 pound bull, and Billy Bob’s does it every Friday and Saturday night to a crowd of hundreds of energetic fans. 

If, after all of your cheering and hollering, it’s a taste of Texas cuisine that you’re after, look no further than Billy Bob’s Roadhouse Café. This down-home eatery offers a veritable smorgasbord of goodness, from hand-cut Texas barbecue with all of the fixins’ to gourmet steaks and seafood that’ll have you happier than a tornado in a trailer park. In fact, we have it on good authority that B.B. King himself (who has also headlined on the main stage) has “a standing order of ribs” shipped to his house from time to time. If that’s not endorsement enough, what else is? Daily and nightly drink specials abound as well, so eager imbibers can bring all their friends and try and topple the record of 13,000 bottles of beer that were once consumed during one of Clint Black’s concert appearances.


Billy Bob’s Texas is a disarmingly rare venue these days; it’s both a rip-roaring honkytonk and a family-friendly entertainment attraction all at the same time. Patrons visiting the Fort Worth Stockyards for the 1st or 100th time can bring the younger guests and enjoy the indoor games and rodeos during the day, while the older folks can kick back in the evening with a good brew and enjoy some of the hottest musical acts in the world. There are even dance lessons conducted by professional instructors for eager women (and brave gentleman) looking to break in that new pair of tight fitting jeans. So, whatever your pleasure on a weekday or weekend night out, the friendly staff at Billy Bob’s will be waiting to offer visitors a bit of good ole’ Texas authenticity.

 - Richard Dennis

Courtesy of Morris Publications/Where Guestbook Fort Worth

SUNDANCE SQUARE


It’s practically impossible to wander the red-bricked streets of Sundance Square and not ponder how and when the city of Fort Worth got its start. From the stones underfoot to the distinctive styling of the rooftops overhead; the city speaks volumes. Tough and leathery, with equal touches of western nostalgia, down-home charm, and lasting craftsmanship; Fort Worth has enjoyed all manner of reinventions since it was first established way back in 1849 as a Trinity River military outpost on the borders of the west Texas frontier. It’s a town rife with ghosts; but not the scary kind. These ghosts whisper lonely songs that herald the arrival of tired farm hands; they echo the sounds of the broken wagon wheels carrying hopeful pioneers looking for a fresh start; and they call to mind the ricochets of the final gunshots that marked the end of the Mexican-American War after the Compromise of 1850.

Iconic and rich with history, Fort Worth went through severe growing pains during its initial transformation from a series of forts to a bustling metropolitan area. In fact, at the beginning, it was Hell. Literally. During the late 1800’s, Sundance Square was known as Hell’s Half Acre. It was so named because it had already developed a reputation for being an arduous and demanding area. The city at that time was bursting with the vitality of the emerging American West, but it was also a rough, crude expanse that housed all manner of residents; from the hardworking upstarts looking to start a legitimate life, to the grizzled roughnecks looking for easy money and trouble in fair measure. It was home to both the lawman and the outlaw; both as coarse as the landscape the city was born out of.

Today, Fort Worth is aptly nicknamed Cowtown. The name has significant meaning because one of the city’s first, and most lasting, enterprises was the herding and driving of cattle from Fort Worth’s section of the Chisholm Trail on up through Kansas. In fact, Fort Worth served as the backbone of the Chisholm Trail for many years and established the city as one of the most prominent ranching industries in the country. It wasn’t until the arrival of the railroads, specifically the Texas & Pacific Railway in 1876 that the city truly morphed into the contemporary wonder that many know and love today. Nowhere is that more on display than in Hell’s Half Acre itself.

No longer hellish at all, Sundance Square was originally named after the Sundance Kid, who was a guest and admirer of the area. It’s even said that he often used the location as hideout from his frequent misdeeds. Outlaws aside, the square is now a hotbed of culture, education, and modern conveniences. It’s a section of Fort Worth busting at the seams with the city’s new revitalization. While it may have once been the former stomping ground of Texas legends like Doc Holiday and Butch Cassidy, it’s now the former stomping ground of…well, Texas legends like T-Bone Burnett and Kelly Clarkson among others. In fact, during one of his many trips to Fort Worth, rumor has it that Big Love actor and Texas native Bill Paxton even stopped off at Peters Bros. Hats in downtown to pick his friend Tom Hanks up a Shady Oak western hat; the very same style of hat that was given to John F. Kennedy on the morning of his assassination.

Visitors to Sundance Square today don’t have to worry about outlaws. They can enjoy casual strolls among the area’s art deco buildings and designer landscapes, or they can get their shopping on full steam ahead with distinctive stores like Retro Cowboy or Pappagallo Classiques. The retail shops in the square carry as much variance and diversity as the very city in which they are housed in. It’s just as easy to pick up a t-shirt for the old man at the Dallas Cowboys Pro Shop as it is to find that one-of-a-kind treasure at the unusual, but equally impressive Earth Bones store.

If it’s one-of-a-kind cuisine that fits the bill after all of that bargain-hunting, hungry patrons can take in the freshest in Mexican fare at Cabo Grande, or wallow in the hand-cut, smoky deliciousness of The Mercury Chop House. Of course, no culinary visit to Sundance Square would be complete without a sampling of the best in authentic Creole and Southern flavors at Reata on Houston St. The chicken chile rellenos alone are worth catching the next plane or hopping aboard the first available Grapevine Railroad into Fort Worth.

Once the palette is satiated, visitors can continue their adventure through Sundance Square and indulge in a vibrant nightlife consisting of everything from the authentic Texas soundscapes of the Lone Star Nightclub, to the silky smooth rhythms inside the doors of the Scat Jazz Lounge in the celebrated Woolworth Building. If it’s a good brew that makes you as happy as a clam at high tide, consider The Flying Saucer on 4th St. With so many countless bottles and drafts available, imbibers might even be lulled into imagining that they’re actually hearing the strains of Lyle Lovett or Robert Earl Keen’s signature voices wafting from the legendary Bass Hall across the street. With dozens of visits to the celebrated venue between them, it might not be imaginary at all.

Fort Worth and Sundance Square have a wealth of history hidden in every crook, crack, and crevice of the town’s signature make up. From the tallest buildings to the most unassuming of retail shops, there’s a story around every corner. The richness of Cowtown’s legacy isn’t subtle, but then again, it doesn’t have to be. Fort Worth has earned its place in the pantheon of America’s great cities; it has been carved out of the countryside by the hardest of workers and the loftiest of dreamers. You can still hear the trains running daily in and out of Stockyard Station, and the train whistles carry with them the voices of the very people who had a hand in crafting the city’s legacy. Whether it’s through the music and culture, or the food and the people, there’s something here for everyone to appreciate.

 - Richard Dennis

Courtesy of Morris Publications/Where Guestbook Fort Worth

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