Billed as the "World's Largest Honky-Tonk" and located in the historic Fort Worth Stockyards district, Billy Bob's Texas, which comprises a total interior space of 100,000 square feet, along with twenty acres for parking, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the state. Many of the brightest stars in country music have played on its stage. In addition to nightly musical performances, Billy Bob offers live bull riding, dancing, drinking, games, and more to a capacity crowd of 6,000.
Billy Bob's has been nominated numerous times and, as of 2011, had won eight titles as the country music "Club of the Year" by the Academy of Country Music. The Country Music Association also has recognized the nightclub with the "Club of the Year" title three times.
Billy Bob's Texas was the brainchild of Texas A&M University graduate and professional football player Billy Bob Barnett. Joining Barnett in the venture was nightclub owner Spencer Taylor, a former car salesman. The two chose an abandoned 100,000-square-foot department store that had once been an open-air cattle barn in the Fort Worth Stockyards. The original structure was built in 1910 and underwent several transformations through the years. Additional animal stalls and an auction ring were constructed in 1936, and during World War II the Globe Aircraft Corporation used the building as an airplane factory. With the additional help of investment partners Thomas and Mitt Lloyd, Barnett renovated the facility and opened the doors for business on April 1, 1981.
Following on the heels of the early 1980s Urban Cowboy craze and subsequent country music boom, Billy Bob's Texas was an instant hit. The first week featured Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, Waylon Jennings, Janie Fricke, and Willie Nelson. A host of others followed, including rockers ZZ Top and the Beach Boys and country music legends Marty Robbins and Ernest Tubb. Billy Bob's Texas helped foster many new musical acts. As the club's marketing director, Pam Minick, wrote, "Billy Bob's became the place for country music musicians to hone their skills, build a fan following, and possibly secure a recording contract." George Strait, for example, played first as an opening act at Billy Bob's. Rick Treviño placed in a talent contest at the nightclub. Ty Herndon was a member of the house band, Southern Thunder.
However, problems eventually beset the nightclub. In the late 1980s, country music, Billy Bob's biggest draw, declined in popularity. Financial mismanagement and unrealized projects drained the nightclub. Billy Bob's Texas was bankrupt, and on January 8, 1988, it closed, causing great loss to the tourism industry of Fort Worth, especially the Stockyards district. Soon afterward, however, entrepreneur Holt Hickman, a Fort Worth native, sought to revive the Stockyards. Hickman's long-time friend and businessman Steve Murrin encouraged him to reopen Billy Bob's Texas. Hickman and Murrin, along with Donald K. Jury, an original Billy Bob's Texas investor, reopened the place on November 28, 1988. In February 1989, Billy Minick became a partner and manager of the nightclub. He eventually became CEO, with his wife Pam as head of marketing.
When Billy Bob's Texas reopened, new headliners took the stage, including Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, and Texans LeAnn Rimes and Clint Black. As country music regained popularity, Billy Bob's focused on native talent, especially musicians who had crossover appeal. Such Texas acts as Robert Earl Keen and Pat Green became some of the club's biggest draws. The high-energy environment and close setting of Billy Bob's Texas allowed these performers to interact more with their fans. According to Pam Minick, most stars know they have made it when they have played the main stage at Billy Bob's. The club has a Handprint Wall of Fame that displays impressions of every performer who has played onstage.
Many artists have recorded live at Billy Bob's. Among the first to do so were Chris LeDoux and David Allan Coe. In 1998 the nightclub, in partnership with Smith Music Group, started the "Live at Billy Bob's" label. Singers performing on this label include Lynn Anderson, Moe Bandy and Joe Stampley, Roy Clark, John Conlee, Pat Green, Merle Haggard, Eddy Raven, Randy Rogers Band, Collin Raye, and Kevin Fowler. In 2015 the Charlie Daniels Band became the forty-eighth live recording in the series. Many country music videos, television shows, and movies have featured Billy Bob's Texas. Videos have been shot at the club for Collin Raye, Chris LeDoux, Billy Dean, and Aaron Tippin, among others. Billy Bob's Texas has been the setting for CBS's "Happy New Year America," TNN's On Stage, CBS's This Morning, and Walker, Texas Ranger. Movies such as Over The Top (1987) starring Sylvester Stallone; Baja Oklahoma (1988) staring Lesley Ann Warren, Peter Coyote, and Willie Nelson; Necessary Roughness (1991); and George Strait's Pure Country (1992) include scenes filmed at Billy Bob's.
Billy Minick's son, Concho, succeeded his father as president of the club in March 2011. On April 1, 2011, Billy Bob's held its thirtieth anniversary celebration. The club produced a commemorative book, detailing the history of its thirty-year operation, and double CD set featuring thirty-songs from thirty performers recorded live. In the 2010s Billy Bob’s was the venue for Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic for several years. By 2015 the club had garnered Country Music Club of the Year honors a total of twelve times, and welcomed more than seventeen million visitors.