For anyone whose grown-up in the Metroplex, Billy Bob's Texas is as synonymous with this region as the Dallas Cowboys, Six Flags Over Texas or Reunion Tower are. Since opening in the equally iconic Ft. Worth Stockyards in 1981, the cavernous space has been the go-to spot for Country stars touring through town. In fact, it's the one venue in Ft. Worth that will keep a major touring national or regional act from crossing over into the eastern side of the Metroplex, more often than not.
While Country fans in their 40's, 50's and beyond will likely suggest you haven't been to a show at Billy Bob's until you've seen Willie or Merle there, the fraternity boys and sorority girls of today will be quick to tell you that there's nothing like taking in a Casey Donahew or Josh Abbott Band show with thousands of other rowdy friends inside the neon-lit venue. For those of us who are well into our mid-30's, it's likely we've seen not only the old-school legends and the current crop of young guns, but also the artists that are perhaps most responsible for the current explosion in the popularity of so-called "Texas Country." At the risk of being an elitist, regional bully, a Robert Earl Keen concert at Billy Bob's might be the most "Texan" thing a person can do for fun on a given weekend.
Perhaps more than any other reason, Billy Bob's ability to evolve with the changes in time and marketplace has kept the venue relevant beyond its touristy appeal. A current look at shows that have both taken place there recently, as well as artists scheduled to play in the near-future show a venue that is far more than an old-school music hall that happens to have it's own bull-riding ring.
Tonight, with David Allen Coe's scheduled gig shelved due to injuries sustained from a recent auto-accident, Billy Bob's called-on Rodney Parker and 50 Peso reward to fill the slot. While the DOMA-nominated band from Denton is certainly one of the best country-rock acts were have in this area, they're only one of the insurgent acts that are on the Billy Bob's upcoming events roster. Adam Hood and Six Market Boulevard are talented, but still-growing acts also playing Billy Bob's soon. In the past year, Americana icons such as Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle and the Drive by Truckers have popped up on the Billy Bob's stage, which hasn't been a regular stop for them in the past. We spoke to Concho Minick, the President of Billy Bob's Texas earlier this week about mixing things up when it comes to filling out their schedule.
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"Since the beginning," Minick says. "Billy Bob's has tried to pair fans and acts across many genres. One of the most memorable acts of my younger years here was Ray Charles. Don't get me wrong, we will always be country focused. Lately we've just had success with some Americana and alternative acts. We're continually looking for acts that fit the room and haven't played here before. This gives us more options and gives fans something new." Beyond this weekend, it's obvious that Billy Bob's doesn't mind taking chances on lesser-known regional acts that haven't quite hit the big-time, even if they have the talent to do so. According to Minick, that is also something that isn't terribly new, and it's something he certainly wants to see more of in the future.
"We think it [booking lesser-known, but promising acts] will continue," he says. "Not only do we feel like we have a responsibility to develop new acts -- George Strait was in the house band here in 1982 -- we are having great success with those acts. We've added a Thursday music series several times a year for this reason. The bottom line is we used to focus on weekend music, and now, we are committed to doing shows and festivals any time it makes sense. We also have [Southern-rocking son of Willie Nelson] Lukas Nelson coming next month, even."
While Billy Bob's and the grounds surrounding it will again host the annual Willie Nelson 4th of July Picnic this summer, there's an event happening before the summer that serves as an exciting sign of where Billy Bob's is going with the product they provide. The Burning Bubba Festival, set for May 25th, is an impressive three-stage shindig with some of the brightest names in Alt-country's and Southern-rock's more youthful universe. Ft. Worth's own psycho-billy act Holy Moly will join the likes of Lincoln Durham, Nashville's Cadillac Three, Austin's the Crooks, and the headlining band, Atlanta's Blackberry Smoke for an event that backs-up Minick's talk about offering fans something new and unusual.
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"Burning Bubba does have a younger target audience," he says. "But the real intention was simply to assemble some unique acts and see if we could start something really fun that could build year after year. I'm particularly excited about this one. We have a great indoor-outdoor festival environment and some of these acts, like The Cadillac Three, are really going to surprise people."
To sum up his thoughts on how he feels about not only the Burning Bubba Festival, but for the future of his prized venue, Minick pulls a quote from Blackberry Smoke's catchy signature tune.
"I can feel a 'good one comin' on'."