Texas Swing: Nightlife Goes Big in Fort Worth

They once built airplanes inside the music and dancing hall that is Billy Bob's. Maybe everything really is bigger in Texas.

It’s hard to say exactly where that most famous of phrases about everything being “bigger in Texas” might have first originated. 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 diners can feast on in Sundance Square. Texas and in particular, Fort Worth, have amassed a 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 pull on your snakeskin boots and bring that rockabilly swagger on down to the 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 ’80s 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 who first created it (to make animal clean-up 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.

Dancers fill the floor at Billy Bob's Texas on any given night. (©Brandon Thibodeaux)

The reason for that impressive amount of attendance is fairly self-explanatory when visitors walk through its doors. Some of the most popular artists in country music and beyond have played Billy Bob’s, from icons like Willie 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 the honky-tonk 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 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 memorabilia, visitors will find a large billiards room. Not a few tables, but an entire room full. There’s also a Texas-sized gaming area with carnival-style attractions for visitors of all ages.

Patrons pass the time in Billy Bob's Texas' larger-than-life billiards room. (©Brandon Thibodeaux)

The piece de resistance however, is the mammoth indoor entertainment center that offers live, professional bull riding. Visitors won’t find any mechanical bulls at Billy Bob’s, only the real deal, ridden by some of rodeo’s most accomplished sportsmen. There is nothing like watching an unassuming cowboy go toe-to-toe with a 1,500-pound bull, and Billy Bob’s does it every Friday and Saturday night to hundreds of energetic fans.

This honky-tonk sports its very own rodeo twice a week. (©Brandon Thibodeaux)

If, after all of that 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 hand-cut Texas barbecue with all of the fixin’s, 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.

Billy Bob’s Texas is a disarmingly rare venue these days; it’s both a rip-roaring honky-tonk and a family-friendly attraction. Patrons visiting the Fort Worth Stockyards 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. 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 ol’ Texas authenticity.

Richard Dennis
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