Since its founding, Billy Bob’s Texas has been known around the globe as the world’s largest honky tonk. It has always been a place to drink beer, do a little line dancing and catch a show, but only Texans and the artists that play at this legendary venue know its true place in the history of country music. For the past 27 years, Robert Gallagher has made sure that the place was more than just a bar, and he helped turn it into a lasting institution.
Yesterday, it was announced that Gallagher would be stepping down as Billy Bob’s entertainment director. Gallagher has been an employee of Billy Bob’s since day one, and moved into the role of entertainment director in 1988. In that time, he brought some of Texas’ most promising artists along with well-established legends to Billy Bob’s, and cultivated some pretty incredible relationships with the talent along the way.
“I’m just always in awe at seeing how beloved he is to the artists that play here. Wade Bowen, Jack Ingram, Randy Rogers — they all love him, ” says Billy Bob’s marketing director Chris Spinks. “Being the type of sincere and genuine person that he is has created a level of goodwill that I’ve never seen, not only in the music business, but business in general. It’s truly remarkable what he’s been able to do.”
Spinks says that Gallagher’s departure is “bittersweet” for Billy Bob’s employees, who consider themselves a family rather than just a bunch of coworkers. As such, Gallagher wanted to announce his retirement at the right time so that fans of the venue wouldn’t think that the split was acrimonious in any way. “All is well. We’re just soaking it all in today,” says Spinks. “There’s nothing but love here, on both sides.”
Still, Billy Bob’s isn’t quite sure how they’re going to fill Gallagher's massive shoes. “You can’t ever fill that role. It’s impossible,” says Spinks. "Hopefully we get Robert’s input and blessing along the way, so that we can find someone like him. But no one will ever be able to fulfill it in the way that Robert did." At present, the venue is still trying to define the job description, since Gallagher did just about everything, from greeting the artists to making sure that the band’s crew was taken care of.
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Even though he won’t be the entertainment director at Billy Bob’s, Gallagher will still be involved in what goes on at his beloved honky-tonk. Before he leaves in mid-July — at the earliest — Gallagher will be helping the venue find his replacement, and making sure that they’re equipped with the knowledge and skills to keep things in working order. “It’s worth noting that Robert isn’t retiring, he’s just stepping down from his role as entertainment director,” Spinks clarifies. “He’ll still be around after he leaves on a consulting basis, and I find it hard to believe that he won’t be around. But he’ll finally be able to have some weekends off.
As is generally the case in the music world, Gallagher hasn’t had many Friday or Saturday nights off since taking the job. He’s been there for every one of the venue’s legendary 4th of July parties, which will continue this year, even though Willie Nelson has moved his own picnic back down to the Hill Country. After he announced his retirement, Gallagher told Spinks that he’d never spent a New Year’s Eve at home with his family, because there was always a show at Billy Bob’s that night.
It will be interesting to see what happens as Billy Bob’s makes this transition. Billy Bob’s is arguably the most important venue in Texas for country artists, and for most of its history, Robert Gallagher has been there to guide the venue to its incredible success. Even though the world’s largest honky-tonk is losing one of its most beloved employees, there’s no doubt that Gallagher will leave Billy Bob’s in the best possible hands.