Rockin Rodeo Celebrates 15 Years in Denton
Rockin Rodeo has hosted countless notable national acts and nurtured some of Denton's most popular artists. Owner Lloyd Banks reflects on the venue's legacy.
Rockin Rodeo, long known as Denton’s go-to Texas country music venue, celebrates its 15th anniversary this year. While a popular spot for local college students and country music fans, Rockin Rodeo doesn’t always receive the kind of recognition that other established venues like Dan’s Silver Leaf (also turning 15 this year) and Harvest House do.
Despite its longevity, a lot of people write the place off as “just a country venue,” often getting that impression from the name itself. Mainstream twang is certainly a big part of Rockin Rodeo's past — but owner Lloyd Banks is more excited about the diverse opportunities ahead.
Rockin Rodeo opened in 2003 as “your typical corporate country bar,” according to Banks. After a couple of years of (minimal) success, Banks — who has owned various clubs and bars in Denton for twenty years now — bought the venue in 2005.
“So, I bought this place in 2005 and, you know, [the original owners] weren’t having the most success, but I thought, well, hey, here’s this place that has a little something going and, you know, maybe we can do some more stuff with it," Banks said. "I bought it, put in a stage, live music, sound, and all that good stuff, and got cranking right away doing all kinds of stuff."
Banks was no fan of his new venue's name. “Yeah, I hated the name," he said. “But at the time I bought it, the place did have one certain night a week that drew a pretty good crowd. Instead of changing the name and starting from scratch, I kept the name because I wanted to use that good night as something to build on."
Rockin Rodeo has always had a reputation for being a go-to country music venue, and for good reason. “We started doing all kinds of shows," Banks said. “I’m not gonna lie — I fell into this country scene and this whole Texas country thing, and, quite frankly, it was so easy because it was so hot for so long that it almost didn’t matter what we booked, people would still flock to it.”
Local and national country acts kept the lights on in Rockin Rodeo's early days, but Banks made sure other genres, like rock and hip hop, were represented on the concert calendar as well. “Not only do I try to do other stuff, I’m begging to do other stuff,” Banks says.
Some of the better-known artists and bands to have played Rockin Rodeo include Brantley Gilbert and Ryan Bingham from Nashville, plus Texas artists like Sam Riggs, Zane Williams, and Denton’s own Eli Young Band.
"Denton is home to us, and Lloyd and Rockin Rodeo were a big part of our beginning," Mike Eli of the Eli Young Band said. "Not only did we play a million shows there, but we hung out there when we had time off. Our first show and many shows after were at his other bar, R-Bar, where we cultivated what and who is the Eli Young Band now. We owe Rockin Rodeo and Lloyd Banks a huge debt of gratitude."
“Rockin Rodeo always has some of the best Texas country acts and best two-stepping," said Mike Tuck, guitarist for Zane Williams. "Always enjoy playing there."
"It was the most insane show," Banks said of Waka Flocka’s show. “It was great! We had no problems, the place sold out. [This show] was the most expensive ticket we had ever done, and he was just the coolest guy you’d ever meet.”
Fifteen years is a lifetime in the live-music business, especially in a constantly evolving music scene like Denton's, where venues come and venues go. Banks credits Rockin Rodeo's longevity to a willingness to adapt.
“We’ve always tried to pivot," Banks said. "Sometimes it happens once a year, sometimes twice a year. Every once in a while, you’ll begin to notice this thing that’s been working for you for a couple years or so starting to not work as well anymore for no rhyme or reason. Maybe a night that used always draw in five hundred people now only brings in 150 people, and at that point, you have to be able to say, hey... we need to change this up or start something new because this isn’t working anymore.”
Part of changing things up, Banks says, is to keep trying to encourage bands of other genres to come play.
"As well as the country thing has worked for us in the past, it’s definitely starting to slow down a bit now, so I definitely want to open things up and encourage more bands from different genres to come in and play. We’ve definitely lost a few venues like Hailey’s and Rubber Gloves within the past couple years, and I want to help fill that void because we have the space to do that here,” says Banks.
“I know the name Rockin Rodeo kind of puts off a lot of people because it’s a typical corporate country bar name, but that’s not what we want to be about. I want people to come in here who haven’t been and have a good time — because nothing makes me happier than to see new people come in and be, like, wow, this is surprisingly cool!"
Header image by Jeremy Langthorn
Header image design by Christopher Rodgers