By Meda Kessler
Photos by Olaf Growald
For Robert Gallagher, working with veteran and new talent hits all the right notes
As we walk through the neon glow of Billy Bob’s Texas — even in the middle of the day, it feels like night — everyone we encounter says hello to Robert Gallagher: construction workers reconfiguring the new stage area, young barbacks stocking cases of Lone Star Beer, employees who toil in the warren of offices inside the cavernous nightclub.
And yet, the 77-year-old tries to play down his role at BB’s, constantly praising the club’s staff, from management on down, for being the best in the business. The Fort Worth native’s main responsibility is contacting entertainers’ tour managers to advance and coordinate all day-of-show details of their upcoming concert appearance. He also books house bands at the Stockyards nightclub. Sometimes local, sometimes an up-and-comer, the musicians he puts on the bill get people on the dance floor and entertain the crowds before a headliner takes the stage.
“I’ve probably booked 15,000 performance nights since I arrived in the Stockyards in 1980,” says Gallagher as we settle into Billy Bob’s well-worn backstage lounge, which is decorated with signatures from those who have performed at the club and hand-painted logos (many done by Gallagher himself). “I’ve seen them go from showing up in an old Suburban to arriving in a huge tour bus. It’s definitely been an experience watching artists grow up.”
While Gallagher would be forgiven if he chose to name-drop — the man has been photographed with almost every country superstar who exists — instead, he talks excitedly about the up-and-coming talent he found through social media, many of them female artists. “I go down a rabbit hole once I start listening.” Among some of his new favorites are Texans Kaitlin Butts and Bri Bagwell, and he applauds local radio for a growing acceptance of female artists. “I always tell young singer-songwriters that everyone started small at one time.”
Gallagher’s acceptance of technology — YouTube serves as a massive social media platform for the club — is key, too. And he’s glued to his smartphone. “I remember the landline days when I tried to contact artists and coordinate shows. It was tedious. But there are still artists who use analog mixing boards and other old-school equipment to get a certain sound.”
Gallagher himself comes from a musical background. “My mom played the piano; my dad loved jazz and Dixieland music. In high school, I took up the drums and played in local bands. I wasn’t very good, but I had a driver license at 15 and the family station wagon. I just wasn’t disciplined enough to be a good musician or a good student.”
Because there’s so much good music now, he doesn’t get too nostalgic over the past. “There were a lot more small clubs back in the day; even if they were more rock or pop, someone would always bring it back to country music.”
Billy Bob’s, he says, has been busy since COVID let up, and the Texas Red Dirt and Americana genres are more popular than ever. “So are the Stockyards, partly in thanks to all the new development.”
Gallagher still makes time, however, for advancing and co-stage managing the yearly Mile 0 event in Key West, a popular winter music festival featuring upcoming and established country artists. “It’s one of my favorite events and favorite places,” says Gallagher.
The rest of the year is about friends and family in Fort Worth. “I have four kids and four grandchildren. All my children grew up at Billy Bob’s, because I was here all the time; some have worked here. But when I can’t see them, I have my family here.”