Surviving for any length of time in the music business is something of a miracle, let alone surviving (and thriving) for 30 years. Over the last three decades, Billy Bob's Texas has come to be an indelible part of the Fort Worth landscape, as integral to the Stockyards as the cattle drive or the cobblestone pavement.
"It's unlike anything else," fiddler Jake Clayton said last year. "There's so much history here, you can almost feel all the artists who have played here." Like Reba, Garth and Willie -- just to name a few. And don't forget about the 17 million or so visitors that have passed down its hallway of legendary handprints.
BBT celebrates the big 3-0 Friday with a shindig befitting the world's largest honky-tonk -- Gary Allan headlines. Before we blow out the candles, though, we have selected five singular moments that have helped shape Billy Bob's Texas into what it is today: a jewel in Fort Worth's crown and one of the iconic stages in country music.
April 1, 1981: Billy Bob's Texas opens
In spring 1980, Spencer Taylor and Billy Bob Barnett purchased a then-defunct discount store at 2520 N. Commerce St., which, in the 1950s, was so large that the stock boys wore roller skates to get around the place in a timely fashion. (Prior to that, in 1910, the building's first incarnation was as an open-air cattle barn.) But on the first of April in 1981, Billy Bob's Texas opened its doors, with a private party featuring Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers. Other opening-week entertainers included Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings.
March 21, 1983: Merle Haggard sets Guinness record
Talk about the mother of all bar tabs: Merle Haggard landed in the Guinness Book of World Records after he ordered the largest round of drinks ever (5,095 one-ounce drinks, which added up to 40 gallons overall, to the tune of $12,737.50). Although it was seemingly spontaneous, the motivation wasn't exactly selfless; Haggard thought it'd be a neat way to promote his then-current single C.C. Waterback. (According to People magazine, which filed an amused report about the incident, a C.C. water-back is Canadian Club whiskey with a water chaser.)
March 31-April 1, 1989: Grand reopening under new management
After some turbulent financial times that looked as though they might shutter the club altogether, Billy Bob's Texas regrouped with a new ownership group: Holt Hickman, Don Jury, Steve Murrin and Billy Minick (who joined the management team first formed in 1988). A two-day grand reopening party with (who else?) Willie Nelson ushered in the modern era of Billy Bob's Texas, which today boasts 32 bar stations, an enormous dance floor, a bull-riding arena and a capacity of just more than 6,000.
Dec. 4, 1998: Pat Green records first 'Live at Billy Bob's' album
Another legacy of Billy Bob's Texas is its Live at Billy Bob's CD/DVD series, which began with one of the state's most promising talents, singer-songwriter Pat Green, in 1998. A project co-created by the Smith Music Group, the series has featured more than 40 national and regional acts, consistently capturing the best the Lone Star State has to offer -- often before anyone knows their name. "It's right there on the checklist as a Texas artist -- there are certain things you've got to do," said Kevin Fowler in 2009. "You've got to sell out Gruene [Hall], got to do a Live at Billy Bob's record and by God, hopefully, someday you can play the Houston [Livestock Show and] Rodeo. You do all that and [you] can die a happy man."
Feb. 18-19, 2011: Miranda Lambert becomes first woman to sell out back-to-back concerts
Only two other artists before her -- Pat Green and Willie Nelson -- did it, but Miranda Lambert became the first female artist to sell out back-to-back concerts at Billy Bob's in February. The feat capped a pretty incredible streak for the Lindale native, who took to the stage in Fort Worth just days after winning a Grammy for best female country vocal performance. "[It's] fantastic," Lambert told DFW.com earlier this year, when asked how it felt to sell out the legendary room two nights in a row. "That means my fans are ready to come out to play and have a good time!"
This report contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.