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Garth, George and 16,800 beers: 10 moments that made Billy Bob's Texas a honkytonk icon

Even if country music isn't your thing, it's hard to ignore the history that's passed through those swinging doors.

FORT WORTH, Texas — Billy Bob's Texas is getting some upgrades. And you were happy about it.

Our story about the Fort Worth honkytonk's renovation plans – in particular the removal of those two large poles near the main stage – was one of our most-read Tuesday.

We get it. People love Billy Bob's.

And even if country music isn't your thing, it's hard to ignore the history that's passed through those swinging doors.

So let's open up the vault and take a look at 10 moments that made Billy Bob's a Texas institution. All photos are courtesy of Billy Bob's, which has a full timeline of their history here.

April 1981: An April Fool's Opening

Pro tip: If you're worried about making a deadline, set it for April 1. 

Billy Bob's scheduled their opening day for April Fool's Day, giving them a backup plan if things fell through or got delayed. Fortunately, everything ran on time.

The opening week featured Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, Waylon Jennings, Janie Fricke and Willie Nelson.

Credit: Billy Bob's Texas
Billy Bob's Texas on opening day in 1981.

May 1982: George Strait's first show 

Before he was the King, George Strait was a house band act at Billy Bob's Texas. He first took the main stage in May 1982, arriving in a pickup truck with a trailer. He wasn't the headliner, opening for Billy Joe Shaver, but his rise to stardom was well underway.

Credit: Billy Bob's Texas
George Strait playing his first show at Billy Bob's Texas in May 1982.

1983: Drinks on Merle 

Merle Haggard was quick to become a Billy Bob's regular, and he endeared himself to the crowd. During his show in 1983, he decided to buy a round – for everyone in the building.

The total came out to be 5,095 drinks of Canadian Club Whisky. That was 40 gallons, according to Billy Bob's, for a bar tab total of $12,737.

Credit: Billy Bob's Texas
The Billy Bob's crowd enjoys a whiskey toast, courtesy of Merle Haggard.

1984: Signature rhinestone saddle installed 

A disco ball with a honkytonk flair. That's what Billy Bob's raised above its dance floor in 1984. The rhinestoned saddle still hangs there today.

Credit: Billy Bob's Texas
The famed rhinestone saddle above the dance floor at Billy Bob's Texas.

1989: Celebrity handprints begin 

After shutting down for most of 1988, Billy Bob's returned and started a new tradition: Putting their acts in stone, literally.

The venue started a concrete handprint Wall of Fame, featuring dozens of artists. Billy Bob's also keeps a picture of each set of handprints on its website.

Credit: Billy Bob's Texas
The celebrity handprints at Billy Bob's Texas.

August 1989: Garth Brooks first show 

Imagine a world where Garth Brooks plays a concert for $5 per ticket and only 500 people show up. That was the case in August 1989, when the rising country artist played Billy Bob's. That wasn't the case just a short few months later, when Brooks sold out the venue.

Brooks had just released his debut album, headlined by "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)" and "If Tomorrow Never Comes." After that first Billy Bob's show, Brooks signed autographs for anyone who wanted one, and then planted his hands in the concrete Wall of Fame.

Credit: Billy Bob's Texas
Garth Brooks playing his first show at Billy Bob's Texas.

August 28, 1998: Pat Green plays first show 

For all the mainstream country acts who've played Billy Bob's, the venue has been just as much, if not more, of a home to Texas and Red Dirt stars. Pat Green is a prime example of that. 

The Waco native was early in his career when he made his Billy Bob's debut in 1998. He then returned that year to record a live album, the first in the "Live at Billy Bob's Texas" series. 

The album was a staple for Green, including his hits "Take Me Out To The Dancehall" and "Southbound 35." 

And the series became a staple for Billy Bob's, too. Merle Haggard later recorded a live album at Billy Bob's, followed by many others who became synonymous with the venue, including Billy Joe Shaver, Randy Rogers Band, Cross Canadian Ragweed and Wade Bowen.

Credit: Billy Bob's Texas
Pat Green at Billy Bob's Texas in 1998.

August 18, 2001: Ringo Starr visits 

Even a Beatle had to check out Billy Bob's. 

Ringo Starr, the former drummer for the Beatles, took his All-Starr Band to Billy Bob's in August 2001. Ringo appropriately showed off his collection of Western shirts and asked to watch the bull riding.

It wasn't Ringo's last foray into country music. In 2020, he recorded a song, "Bad Trick," with Dallas native Ray Wylie Hubbard, a longtime regular at Billy Bob's.

Credit: Billy Bob's Texas
Ringo Starr showing off a western shirt at Billy Bob's Texas.

Jan. 25, 2014: 16,800 bottles of beer on the wall

Ryan Bingham, the Texas country star and future "Yellowstone" cast member, broke a nearly-30-year record with his performance in January 2014: Most bottles of beer sold at a single show, checking in at 16,800. That's a lot of beer.

The mark broke the record set at Hank Williams Jr.'s show in 1986.

Credit: Billy Bob's Texas
Ryan Bingham playing Billy Bob's Texas in 2014. There's a lot of beer in that crowd.

April 2022: The return of Turnpike 

Admittedly this author is biased, but the numbers don't lie: The Turnpike Troubadours' return to Billy Bob's in April was one of the highest-in-demand shows in the venue's history.

Turnpike came back from a three-year hiatus this spring and scheduled Billy Bob's as their first Texas show. When tickets went on sale in January, there were 22,000 people on Billy Bob's website trying to get 6,000 tickets, the venue tweeted. Turnpike quickly sold out two shows, and then sold out a later-added third show.

On April 21, they took the stage for the first of three sold-out shows, opening with "Every Girl," one of their biggest hits. The singalong from the crowd was nearly louder than the band.

RELATED: Getting the boot: Those annoying poles at Billy Bob's Texas are getting removed

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