Billy Bob’s Top 10 Moments

On July 5, the historic venue announced renovations it plans for the venue. We revisit some of the iconic moments in the honky-tonk's history.

For all of Billy Bob’s Texas’ legendary status and history, anyone who’s seen a show at the Fort Worth honky-tonk likely knows one particular issue with the venue.

Or, rather, two.

Not far from the stage are two large poles that partially obstruct the view of anyone sitting behind them. Unless you’re sitting feet from the stage, or directly in the middle of the showroom, you know the poles.

Now, there’s good news: They’re coming down.

On July 5, Billy Bob’s, the world’s largest honky-tonk, announced plans for several renovations, most notably the removal of those pesky poles. Billy Bob’s general manager Marty Travis says the venue will also lift a portion of the roof, helping improve viewing and sound quality.

Travis says an “overwhelming” number of guests have complained about the poles blocking their view from the seats, which can cost a pricey ticket depending on who’s performing.

Randy Rogers, a Billy Bob’s regular, was there July 5 to celebrate the removal of the poles, smashing a guitar into one of them during a ceremony the venue held.

The reality is: people love Billy Bob’s. And even if country music isn’t your thing, it’s hard to ignore the history that’s passed through those swinging doors.

So let’s open up the vault and take a look at 10 moments that made Billy Bob’s a Texas institution. All photos are courtesy of Billy Bob’s.

(1) April 1, 1981: An April Fool’s Opening

Pro tip: If you’re worried about making a deadline, set it for April 1. Billy Bob’s scheduled its opening day for April Fool’s Day, giving them a backup plan if things fell through or got delayed. Fortunately, everything ran on time. The opening week featured Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, Waylon Jennings, Janie Fricke and Willie Nelson.

(2) May 1982: George Strait’s first show 

Before he was the King, George Strait was a house band act at Billy Bob’s Texas. He first took the main stage in May 1982, arriving in a pickup truck with a trailer. He wasn’t the headliner, opening for Billy Joe Shaver, but his rise to stardom was well underway.

(3) 1983: Drinks on Merle 

Merle Haggard was quick to become a Billy Bob’s regular, and he endeared himself to the crowd. During his show in 1983, he decided to buy a round – for everyone in the building.

The total came out to be 5,095 drinks of Canadian Club Whisky. That was 40 gallons, according to Billy Bob’s, for a bar tab total of $12,737.

(4) 1984: Signature rhinestone saddle installed 

A disco ball with a honky-tonk flair. That’s what Billy Bob’s raised above its dance floor in 1984. The rhinestoned saddle still hangs there today.

(5) 1989: Celebrity handprints begin 

After shutting down for most of 1988, Billy Bob’s returned and started a new tradition: Putting their acts in stone, literally.

The venue started a concrete handprint Wall of Fame, featuring dozens of artists. Billy Bob’s also keeps a picture of each set of handprints on its website.

(6) August 1989: Garth Brooks’ first show 

Imagine a world where Garth Brooks plays a concert for $5 per ticket and only 500 people show up. That was the case in August 1989, when the rising country artist played Billy Bob’s. That wasn’t the case just a short few months later, when Brooks sold out the venue.

Brooks had just released his debut album, headlined by “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)” and “If Tomorrow Never Comes.” After that first Billy Bob’s show, Brooks signed autographs for anyone who wanted one, and then planted his hands in the concrete Wall of Fame.

(7) August 28, 1998: Pat Green plays first show 

For all the mainstream country acts who’ve played Billy Bob’s, the venue has been just as much, if not more, of a home to Texas and Red Dirt stars. Pat Green is a prime example of that.

The Waco native was early in his career when he made his Billy Bob’s debut in 1998. He then returned that year to record a live album, the first in the “Live at Billy Bob’s Texas” series.

The album was a staple for Green, including his hits “Take Me Out To The Dancehall” and “Southbound 35.”

And the series became a staple for Billy Bob’s, too. Merle Haggard later recorded a live album at Billy Bob’s, followed by many others who became synonymous with the venue, including Billy Joe Shaver, Randy Rogers Band, Cross Canadian Ragweed and Wade Bowen.

(8) August 18, 2001: Ringo Starr visits 

Even a Beatle had to check out Billy Bob’s.

Ringo Starr, the former drummer for the Beatles, took his all-Starr Band to Billy Bob’s in August 2001. Ringo appropriately showed off his collection of Western shirts and asked to watch the bull-riding.

It wasn’t Ringo’s last foray into country music. In 2020, he recorded a song, “Bad Trick,” with Ray Wylie Hubbard, a longtime regular at Billy Bob’s.

(9) Jan. 25, 2014: 16,800 bottles of beer on the wall

Ryan Bingham, the Texas country star and future Yellowstone cast member, broke a nearly-30-year record with his performance in January 2014: Most bottles of beer sold at a single show, checking in at 16,800. That’s a lot of beer.

The mark broke the record set at Hank Williams Jr.’s show in 1986.

(10) April 2022: The return of Turnpike 

Admittedly, this author is biased, but the numbers don’t lie: the Turnpike Troubadours’ return to Billy Bob’s in April of this year was one of the highest-in-demand shows in the venue’s history.

Turnpike came back from a three-year hiatus and scheduled Billy Bob’s as their first Texas show. When tickets went on sale in January, there were 22,000 people on Billy Bob’s website trying to get 6,000 tickets. Turnpike quickly sold out two shows, and then sold out a later-added third show.

On April 21, they took the stage for the first of three sold-out shows, opening with “Every Girl,” one of their biggest hits. The singalong from the crowd was nearly louder than the band.

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