If you’ve so much as heard of Billy Bob’s Texas — the sprawling concert venue is known for hosting country music’s most iconic talents, plus lively bull riding events on weekends — you likely have Pam Minick to thank. Tough, tall and possessing a smile bright enough to light up a coliseum, the former rodeo champion — she was crowned the youngest-ever Miss Rodeo America in 1973 — has found success as a TV producer, sports commentator and as the first woman to ever announce at a major professional rodeo. But to hear Minick tell it, her best days have been as co-owner of Billy Bob’s, known far and wide as the “World’s Largest Honky Tonk.”
Since 1988, Minick has not only served as the face of the venue — which she co-owns alongside her husband, legendary rodeo producer Billy Minick — but also as the operation’s one-woman marketing army. Though today she’s technically retired, Minick can usually be found in the venue’s office, helping to promote and sell such events as Billy Bob’s forthcoming 40th-anniversary concert series, occurring throughout April.
When you and your husband took over ownership of Billy Bob’s in 1989, did you ever foresee it would be around long enough to celebrate a 40th anniversary?
Not at all. Ten years ago, when Billy Bob’s was celebrating its 30th anniversary, I did a series of musician interviews for the occasion, one with [the late] Merle Haggard. I asked him, “What do you think makes Billy Bob’s so interesting?” He said, “The fact that it’s still around! Most beer joints have a seven-year lifespan.” I think about that a lot — the fact that we’re still open and haven’t been worked into anything else. Today, it’s what it was back in the 80s — only we have a better sound system and cleaner restrooms. [Laughs]
You’ve had a rich career before and after Billy Bob’s — Miss Rodeo America, sports commentator, television host. Why is marketing for the World’s Largest Honky Tonk the gig that’s stuck the longest?
Because I never got out of bed thinking “My gosh, I’ve got to go to work.” It’s more, “Oh, my gosh, what’s to tackle today?” I’ve always been a hyper-competitive person. That’s the spirit that’s driven me to success in the rodeo circuit and concert marketing — it’s always about upping your last show. Your last concert sold 4,200 tickets? What can I do to sell 4,300 this time?
Was country music a big part of your life growing up, given that you’re not from Texas?
Country music became my go-to when I started competing in junior rodeos [at age 9]. But growing up in Las Vegas, in the era that I did, there was a lot I was exposed to that other kids weren’t. My dad worked at one of the hotels, so on weekends — when other kids maybe went to the movies — we went to dinner shows. There I saw acts like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Wayne Newton. This was back when Wayne was too young to go into the casino; he had to go through the back door. I even have a picture of Marty Robbins performing at my 16th birthday party — he’s serving me my birthday cake.
How’d you come to settle in Texas?
My love for two things: Western heritage and Western industry. When I first came to Fort Worth to do TV interviews for the Women’s National Finals Rodeo, I remember walking down the streets of the Fort Worth stockyards, those cobblestone streets — I just fell in love. I’ve never been a big believer in déjà vu, but It felt familiar … like I was born to live there.
And on that same trip you met your future husband, Billy Minick, outside of Billy Bob’s — or so the story goes.
Well, our paths had crossed previously — being that I was Miss Rodeo America and he was the top rodeo producer of his generation — but never to where we really knew each other. So it was then in late 1982 that I met him for real. He was coming out the back door of Billy Bob’s — he had on a smart white shirt, and his hair was blowing majestically in the wind. It was like something out of Baywatch, which was appropriate since that night the Beach Boys were playing Billy Bob’s. He invited me to the show, and that was that. We’ve been married almost 38 years.
How do you two balance your professional and personal relationship?
A common goal and respect — plus the fact that each of us carries our own weight. It seems simple, but I think the responsibility we both learned caring for livestock goes a long way in our marriage and our business. When you take on livestock — or even pets for that matter — you can’t finger-point and say, “You didn’t feed the dog today.” You carry your own weight, and when necessary you carry the weight of the other person, because there are no defined lines between your shared goal.
What was your first impression of the World’s Largest Honky Tonk as a guest?
You have to remember that having grown up in Las Vegas, I wasn’t your typical concert-goer. My references for entertainment venues were Caesar’s Palace, the Flamingo Hotel and the MGM Grand. So while I can see that “wow” feeling some people experience when they first walk in, if I’m being totally honest, it wasn’t a wow moment. Seeing it now, though — understanding everything that it takes to make all of that happen — that is a wow. But when you’re 12 and you see Evel Knievel jump the Caesar’s Palace fountains from 10 feet away, it’s hard to muster a wow. [Laughs]
Was your high standard for “wow” ever an obstacle to your marketing job?
It’s actually what’s made Billy and myself perfect for our roles. When Billy was producing the Houston Livestock Show, he had the Jackson Five, he had Elvis, he had Cher. You realize quite early that you’re partners with these artists — they need you. When you’re not starstruck, you treat talent like people; it’s refreshing to them. Artists get a lot of BS from a lot of people. They don’t get any BS from me and Billy. That’s why there are some people like Stoney LaRue who have Billy on speed dial. If Billy’s phone rings at four in the morning, it’s usually Stoney.
Your husband was involved with Billy Bob’s from the beginning, eventually working his way up to general manager before the venue’s brief shuttering in 1988. Why did the two of you part ways with the organization in 1986?
Because the club’s original owner and namesake, [former NFL player] Billy Bob Barnett, wanted everybody to invest in a development in the Fort Worth Stockyards. But there wasn’t a master plan. It’s hard to invest in something where you can’t see what the plan is … when you don’t feel secure. So we went away. Two years later, Billy Bob’s was bankrupt, and so many of those people lost their investment. It was really one of God’s blessings that we hadn’t invested. In 1988, when new investors came along, they knew Billy would be the right person to tighten the ship and make it work as the new owner.
Was it a challenge getting Billy Bob’s off the ground after it had been closed for almost a year?
Not from the talent side. Country artists weren’t playing big venues back then. We got every artist, because in order to get to the next level of country music fame, they had to tour I-35, hitting Oklahoma City, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio. Billy always says, “We get them on the way up and on the way back down.” So when you’ve got great artists every single weekend, a huge country radio following and the work ethic to get the word out, things fall into place.
That’s also around the time you became the venue’s sole marketer?
I still remember the day Billy]picked me up at the airport. He’d been back at Billy Bob’s for maybe two weeks or so. I’d just come back from covering the Pro Rodeo Circuit Finals in Pocatello, Idaho. He said, “I fired the advertising agency today. Honey, you know about television … you can do this. By the way, I don’t have any budget for marketing — that’s where you have to get creative.”
And that was that?
When you see a need — and when your husband says “Would you help me with this?” — you say yes.
Did you have any trepidation taking over all the marketing duties for the World’s Largest Honky Tonk?
I found that a lot of marketing is in the head, heart and gut. Sure, I never went to college to get a degree in the field, but I already had a marketing mindset and was prepared for that job in ways I didn’t even realize at the time. As Miss Rodeo America, I did every radio broadcast from Pasadena, California, to New York City. In that role you’re basically the marketing person for the sport of rodeo. It’s not about your time in the arena — it’s your time out in the community selling tickets.
What marketing skills did you glean as Miss Rodeo America?
When you’re in that role, the committee that’s paid for your appearance expects you to be on every morning talk show in the city — at every Rotary Club luncheon and rubber chicken event. You’re speaking all the time. And the most important thing I learned, marketing-wise, was that any publication or TV station will run your story provided it’s compelling enough and that it’s a slow news day. That’s the mindset we applied to Billy Bob’s before we had a marketing budget. It didn’t matter if we were having dog adoptions at the venue or introducing our newest employee. Pardon my French, but if you throw enough shit at the wall, something’ll stick.
Was there a moment or event that convinced you Billy Bob’s was back on the right track following the venue’s reopening?
Garth Brooks — August 1, 1989. Reserved seats were $7.50, and general admission was $5. He was still coming up at that time, and 500 people came to the show. Now, if you’ve ever seen a Garth Brooks concert, you cannot be unimpressed with his desire to entertain. He even stood on the stage afterward and said, “I’ll sign autographs for anybody here.” We owe Billy Bob’s initial comeback to Garth, because he changed the music industry for a long time. And then the next wave was the Texas music artists — your Miranda Lamberts and Midlands. They’re the ones who’ve been the real salvation for the last decade and a half.
Is it hard to re-book artists who’ve found breakout success, outgrowing Billy Bob’s 6,000-person capacity?
Artists like Garth and George Strait … they’re the kind who never forget where they came from, never forget who booked them when other venues didn’t even know how to spell their names correctly. I remember that shortly after Garth’s second Billy Bob’s show, he was already hitting to the point where he could play bigger arenas. We were still able to book him again for November 1991, but we had to get creative.
Get creative how?
Our caveat was we couldn’t announce his next Billy Bob’s concert until after his planned appearance at Dallas’ State Fair. Now, if you don’t know, that fair is a huge deal, and since we had to wait to announce the show, Billy’s big idea was to have a plane fly over the fair with a taildragger. So when Garth stepped on stage, a plane flew over with a tail that read “Garth Brooks at Billy Bob’s! Tickets on Sale Monday!” Garth stopped his show and said, “I guess you know where I’m playing next.”
When you look back at your decades of working with musicians, which artist interactions stand out in particular?
One of them you’re gonna laugh at: Ringo Starr. Because he genuinely loves Billy Bob’s! When he comes in, the first thing he says is, “I told me mates that there’s bull riding here!” But also because he’s a huge country music historian. Billy once said to him, “Did you know Elvis Presley and Kitty Wells played in that building [the Cowtown Coliseum] right next door?’ Ringo said, “Yes, I did, and I know that Elvis opened for Kitty Wells.”
Which Billy Bob’s concerts do you wish you could go back and relive?
Gosh, there are just too many. And they’re not just country shows. I remember the harmony of the Doobie Brothers that could give you chills, and the time Donna Summer rode a horse through the middle of Billy Bob’s. But I’ll tell you this: after 55 performances here, when Willie Nelson steps on stage and strums the first notes of “Whiskey River” — when you hear that Gong… Gong… Gong — goosebumps. Every time.
You first retired from your marketing role back in 2013.
I didn’t leave for long.
Right, you and Billy returned to your previously held positions in 2017, after the much publicized exit of then-owner Concho Minick, Billy’s son from a previous marriage.
When you’re in this position of ownership, you never really retire. It’s like a baby calf — you try to wean them. Billy Bob’s becomes like one of your children, and not only your child but also your livelihood. When you see your kid going down a wrong path, you step in to take it back. While I was initially hesitant [about returning to the marketing position], I didn’t realize all the relationships I’d forged over time — the journalists, radio DJs and audiences who were so glad I was back. I knew they wouldn’t let us fail. And in 2019, we had our best year yet financially. Now, though, I’m officially gone for good.
Why is it important for you to bring back a variety of artists for Billy Bob’s 40th anniversary celebration?
Billy always says that part of Billy Bob’s success is we play the past, the present and future of music. What’s particularly exciting to me lately is the future — the Riley Greens and the Parker McCollums, artists where you don’t know what their career trajectory is going to be quite yet. I remember an interview we did with Midland. One of the guys said, “Man, we’d never even dreamed big enough to think we’d ever play Billy Bob’s.” Now, when you announce Midland is coming, they sell out quickly. To realize you were part of an artist’s dream like that … it’s really something special.