Feature Stories

Strokers Dallas Brings Live Music to an Old Grateful Dead Tour Bus

Strokers Dallas is known as the “Disneyland for Bikers,” and with good reason. A simple drive past the funky, sprawling complex provides a clear glimpse into the oddball appeal of the place. Opened in 1996 by revered custom bike builder Rick Fairless, Strokers is a multi-faceted, one-stop shop for the biker lifestyle. Now Fairless wants it to be a venue for live music, as well.

Along with the renowned custom bike shop and custom parts center, you can grab a burger and a beer at Strokers Ice House, and get some fresh ink at the tattoo parlor on the premises.  Thanks to the massive outdoor patio, you can also catch some live music in the middle of it all. Or even from inside a legendary party bus owned by the Grateful Dead.

The craziest single element of this legendary biker bar is now the most distinctive concert venue in north Texas. The bus, a 1965 Gillig named “Sugar Magnolia” by the band, has been owned by Richard Rawlings of Gas Monkey Garage fame, and before him, by none other than the original Eddie Munster himself, Butch Patrick.

Jerry Garcia and his merry band of psychedelic trailblazers used this bus for almost 20 years from the late '60s into the '80s. Back then it was used to carry the band’s gear in between tour stops, but once it was parked and emptied for a show, the bus became a hangout.  A-list stars like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin spent quality time with the Dead on the bus.

The bus was featured on a recent episode of the locally based hit cable show Fast and Loud, where Rawlings was looking to sell the bus. In the episode, he knew only certain collectors would be interested in such a singular piece. But the collector who bought it from Rawlings on the show soon sold it to Fairless, who made the purchase just last year. 

This Friday, before his main stage set in front of hundreds, red dirt star Stoney LaRue will play four songs on his acoustic guitar inside the bus for the 10 VIP ticket holders, who each paid $100 for the privilege. A few GoPro cameras will be set up inside to film the set. And yes, the bus has air conditioning.

A lifelong deadhead himself, LaRue was quick to agree to such a singular arrangement, says Tony Avezzano. He's the former Hat Tricks owner who has been working behind the scenes at the upcoming Lava Cantina, and been booking shows at Strokers for the past few months.

Once he was able to look around the bus, complete with original posters, stickers, stove, couches and beds, it didn’t take long to envision the possibilities. “It’s as cool as can be,” says Avezzano. “Not only is it an amazing piece of rock 'n' roll history, but there’s nothing like this being done in Dallas. I’ve put on shows here for 15 years, and I’ve never seen anything remotely close to something this unique.”

While Strokers has utilized its well-appointed outdoor space for live music and a number of other live events, big-name, original music wasn’t a primary focus. Local cover bands specializing in classic rock and blues have long held court for the 500 to 1,000 bikes that roll through Strokers on a given night. The fact that Strokers is so closely identified with the biker community means a bit of attention-grabbing eclecticism is not only a productive notion, but essential.

Mixed in with the chopper-intensive murals and décor, life-size figures of hockey players and pop culture icons such as Betty Boop and Kip’s Big Boy populate the grounds. The amount of hippie-approved tie-dye washing over the place helps balance out the abundance of black and chrome. Plans for future “bus shows” are in the works and more big-name artists will soon play on the main stage at Strokers.

“It is definitely a biker bar,” admits Avezzano. “But it’s not a rough place with a bunch of big biker dudes fighting all the time. Mr. Fairless is a sweet man and works hard to make Strokers a welcoming place for pretty well anyone.”
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Kelly Dearmore