A Western whirl in Fort Worth, Texas, can be as citified or as countrified as tastes demand. Drew Womack’s lyrics say it best: “Fort Worth, you got class, you blend the future with the past, like the words and music to a classic song.”
In the 1930s, singer Kate Smith affirmed the star quality of the area, “The stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas.” But more recently it was Chris LeDoux who playfully crooned, “I’m headed to a place called Cowtown.” From Western swing, two steppin’, and boot scootin’, to Longhorn cattle, rodeo, big hats, BBQ, and honky tonks—and clear on over to five-star dining and lodging, as well as big name entertainment in acoustic perfection—it’s all here.
“Cowtown” is Fort Worth’s nickname, and nowhere is that moniker more apt than in the district known officially as The Stockyards. There, the brick-paved main thoroughfare, grandly called “Exchange Avenue,” is the route of a longhorn cattle drive twice a day with drovers dressed in 1880s attire. The railhead and stock pens from the same era are still here, too, with the stock pens now serving as a “Texas Size Human Maze.” Across the street there’s the Stockyards Station, where an 1896 vintage stream engine pulls six beautifully restored rail cars, although these days it’s tourists and not cattle that take a ten-mile ride across town to the neighboring village of Grapevine. Grapevine—as the name suggests—is noted for its wineries.
Also beautifully restored is the Stockyards Hotel, built in 1913. Famous and infamous guests have stayed there, including Bonnie and Clyde. One of Bonnie’s guns is even encased on the wall. The hotel bar has a string of saddle bar stools thatare waiting for thirsty dudes to swing aboard. Once in the saddle, with whistle suitably wet, a guest can dismount and amble to the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame in the former Horse and Mule Barns, or shop for Western wear along Exchange Avenue. Not inclined to shop? Simply follow the 126 bronze inlaid star markers honoring those who have personified the Western way of life—Will Rogers, Charles Goodnight, and Roy Rogers, to name but a few.
There’s a rodeo every Friday and Saturday in the air-conditioned Coliseum, and lively nightlife every evening. The White Elephant Saloon is handily located between two hotels, and within boot scootin’ distance is Billy Bob’s, the “world’s largest honky tonk,” where big-name entertainers perform regularly, and bull riders ride real bulls within earshot of a bar—and there are plenty of bars there. More than 600 feet of bar rails exist inside Billy Bob’s, as well as plenty of room to dance.
On Oct. 24-26, Red Steagall hosts a Cowboy Gathering and Western Swing Festival in the Stockyards. The 2008 festival opens with chuck wagons setting up camp along Exchange Avenue, where delicious aromas from Dutch ovens waft from campfires. Cowboy poets recite tall tales, with the likes of Oscar Auker, Chris Isaacs, and Red Steagall (aka Poet Laureate of Texas) participating. Don Edwards and the Quebe Sisters provide musical entertainment, while working ranch hands from some of the most famous Texas ranches team up to compete in ranch-hand rodeo events, including wild cow milking.
If after all that you’ve still not had enough Western fun, there are several working ranches in the area that welcome visitors, including the nearby MD Ranch, which has a petting zoo for children, as well as a bed and breakfast.
The second stanza in the sparkling Fort Worth trio of stars is known as the Cultural District, which is about a ten-minute cab ride and a century removed from the Stockyards. Here, individuals involved in today’s cattle and horse industries are often in action at the impressive Will Rogers complex. Scheduled for the autumn of 2008 are the Appaloosa Horse Club World Championship Show, the American Paint Horse Association Show, and the National Cutting Horse Futurity.
Adjacent to the Will Rogers complex is the new National Cowgirl Hall of Fame, where 150 women of the West, from Sacajawea to Annie Oakley to Patsy Cline, are celebrated. Also within walking distance of Will Rogers are the magnificent Kimbell Art Center, which showcases art from the prehistoric era to Picasso, and the Amon Carter Museum, which features Western and other American art.
Blending the future with the past, Fort Worth’s third “star” sparkles brightly. If the Stockyards are “cowtown,” and the Cultural District is “now town,” then Sundance Square (named after the Sundance Kid, who allegedly hid out in the area) is “wow town.” Sundance Square is less than two miles from the Cultural District, but it’s where the lights are brighter, and the restaurants glitzier.
Take an afternoon stroll through the Sid Richardson gallery, where you’ll encounter works by Frederic Remington and Charles Russell that will make your heart sing. Speaking of singing, there is an acoustically correct performance hall in Sundance known as “The Bass,” (Bass Performance Hall, to be precise), home to the Fort Worth Opera and Ballet.
You’ll still see boots and Wranglers in Sundance Square, but odds are they’ll be polished boots and pressed denim.
Hank Williams Jr. sang wistfully of “the girl on the front row at Fort Worth,” while Kathy Mattea’s mellow alto crooned “she came from Fort Worth.” People know about Fort Worth’s multifaceted focus on the working cowboy’s past in the Stockyards, the livestock producers of today seen at the Cultural District’s Will Rogers complex, and the playground of the Western lifestyle enthusiasts as seen in Sundance Square’s “downtown but still Western” city ambiance.
Before planning your next Western Entertainment Excursion, let us pose the same question that George Strait asks: “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind?”
Places to see near FT. WORTH, TEXAS
• Guadalupe Mountains National Park
• Amarillo, with its AQHA Heritage Center and Museum, Big Texan Restaurant, and nearby Palo Duro Canyon.
• The Alamo, in San Antonio
• Cowboy Artists of America Museum
Contact: Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau