Just hours after arriving in Texas I found myself among a sold-out crowd at the "world's largest Honky Tonk" watching the one and only Willie Nelson live in concert.

My night out at Fort Worth's Billy Bob's Texas was an altogether fantastic and surreal experience – full immersion treatment for a first-time visitor to the state and an unforgettable introduction to the city's authentic cowboy and music culture.

READ MORE:
USA: Expert tips on America's top three must-see holiday destinations
Premium - 50 Winter Holidays: USA holidays and last-minute Americas
United States: A DIY itinerary for self-guided holidays in the USA
Cheapest holiday destinations for 2020 and the world's most affordable escape

This cavernous and iconic live music venue is one of the most popular attractions within the historic Stockyards district, housed inside a converted cattle barn that was built in 1910 before serving as an airplane factory during World War II.

Advertisement
Country music legend Willie Nelson performing at Billy Bob's Texas. Photo / Supplied.
Country music legend Willie Nelson performing at Billy Bob's Texas. Photo / Supplied.

Occupying a whopping 127,000 square feet, Billy Bob's has been drawing capacity crowds of up to 6000 for almost 40 years.

You'll find all manner of Western-style entertainment here, including more than 30 bar stations, arcades, casinos, line-dancing lessons and professional bull-riding demonstrations, restaurants offering BBQ brisket and ribs, and a Texas-sized dance floor.

The biggest stars in country music and classic rock - Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and ZZ Top - have graced Billy Bob's stage, and I was lucky to see Nelson, one of the most recognisable American musicians of the last century.

Billy Bob's Texas in Fort Worth has been drawing huge crowds for almost 40 years. Photo / Supplied.
Billy Bob's Texas in Fort Worth has been drawing huge crowds for almost 40 years. Photo / Supplied.

Indeed, with his career nearing an end, several locals mentioned the masses had turned out for what was expected to be the Texas native's 57th and final appearance at Billy Bob's, after respiratory problems had forced the 86-year-old to cancel several shows last August.

And although The Red Headed Stranger is showing his age, he had the crowd in the palm of his hand from the moment he walked onstage for a 90-minute set that included hits such as On the Road Again, Whiskey River and Georgia On My Mind.

Like any show, it costs extra to get close to the stage, but I was content watching from a distance with a welcoming (rowdy) group of cowboys, with big screens providing a close-up view of the band.

You'll find all manner of Western-style entertainment at Billy Bob's. Photo / Supplied.
You'll find all manner of Western-style entertainment at Billy Bob's. Photo / Supplied.
Billy Bob's offers a chance to be a rodeo star by providing an authentic stuffed bull photo opportunity. Photo / Instagram.
Billy Bob's offers a chance to be a rodeo star by providing an authentic stuffed bull photo opportunity. Photo / Instagram.

But just entering Billy Bob's is an assault on the senses, moving through what feels like a montage of bar scenes with a cast of characters straight out of countless movies and television shows.

People-watching here is a first-class experience. Cowboys politely invite cowgirls to dance two-step - to the likes of Steve Earle's Copperhead Road and the theme from Footloose, no less.

Chivalry may be a lost art elsewhere but not in Fort Worth and certainly not at Billy Bob's.

Advertisement

There are just two unspoken rules, I was told, which if followed will ensure a fun and memorable night for all: Never touch another cowboy's hat, and never touch his woman. Words to live by in Texas.

GETTING THERE
Qantas flies from Auckland to Dallas Fort Worth, via Sydney, with return Economy Class fares from $1199. hot.co.nz/usa
DETAILS
visittheusa.com
fortworth.com