On what used to be a large grass parking lot in front of the Irving Convention Center now lies the Toyota Music Factory, which opened in late summer 2017.
If you've been there, you know that there is much more to the Music Factory than music. Yes, there's the Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory, which brings in headlining acts (John Cleese, Brad Paisley and Queens of the Stone Age are among the acts scheduled for April).
But there are also restaurants. Twenty-five of them, when all is said and done. And Big Beat Dallas, which is celebrating its grand opening starting Thursday, March 29, will account for five of them.
Big Beat Dallas is a sprawling concept (within a larger sprawling concept) that encompasses five venues: Bar Manzanilla, a taqueria and tequila bar with DJs spinning music; Highway 61 South, a blues club that will offer burgers and barbecue; Texas Jam House and Marketplace, a 24-hour Southern kitchen; plus Martini Ranch, a Vegas-style cocktail lounge, and Texas C-Bar, a large wine bar that also has a global scotch menu, a cigar lounge and, yes, food.
All five venues look out on Texas Lottery Plaza, where there's an outdoor stage for acts that aren't necessarily at Music Pavilion status yet, as well as areas where busking-type musicians will perform. The plaza will feature two large outdoor bars.
The Big Beat concept is the brainchild of Billy Bob Barnett, who has been known to think big: He's the Billy Bob in Billy Bob's Texas, "The World's Largest Honky Tonk." And thinking big can mean thinking long — the road to the Music Factory and to Big Beat Dallas began nearly a decade ago.
"I was always involved in the project as a concessionaire," Barnett says, adding that he came on board around 2007 or '08. "The city brought [Music Factory developer ARK Group] in, and we negotiated a lease ... for approximately 90,000 square feet. We're a tenant for ARK."
For perspective, the entire Music Factory development — which launched as Irving Music Factory but quickly turned into Toyota Music Factory — is about 250,000 square feet.
Barnett hasn't been directly involved in Billy Bob's Texas since 1988, but he hasn't been dormant, either. He spent about seven or eight years in New Orleans. Then he spent a similar amount of time in Los Angeles.
"In New Orleans, I built about eight concepts on Bourbon Street," he says. "I guess the one that's best known is Cat's Meow. . . . [In L.A.], I was doing some consulting work for some gaming people. ... I lived in L.A. but I'd go to Vegas quite a bit."
Barnett's work in New Orleans helped inspire the multi-stage, multi-artist setup for Big Beat Dallas. The biggest name performing on the Main Stage during opening weekend will be Texas musician Joe Ely, who is scheduled to perform at 10 p.m. Saturday, March 31. Other late-night acts include country/rock band the Texas Gentlemen (9 p.m. Thursday, March 29), blues artist Ruthie Foster (10 p.m. Friday, March 30), and Americana singer-songwriter Parker McCollum (9 p.m. Monday, April 2). Blues artist Nikki Hill will perform a free "Sundays After Sunset" show, scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.
All concerts on Sundays and Mondays are free of charge. There is a $10.50 cover fee at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays. On Fridays and Saturdays, there is a $12.50 cover fee beginning at 8 p.m. Guests must be 21 or older to enter after 8 p.m.
But there will be music throughout the day on the plaza and at Big Beat Dallas venues. The acts are meant to complement the acts at the Pavilion.
"We book smaller acts," Barnett says. "Regional, Texas-type acts, Texas music. This is all a Texas concept with a lot of Texas in it. We did bring in some acts from Louisiana and Mississippi for Highway 61. But it's where you'll see [acts like] a lot of the young acts that went in to Billy Bob's before they made it."
Big Beat Dallas' concept is designed so that you can move from one venue to another, taking your drinks with you if you want. A pre-opening tour was a little dizzying, but the restaurants connect with one another, allowing for free movement.
The restaurants aim high: Bar Manzanilla might be described as a tacos-and-tequila bar, but the tacos include such items as the "El Chingon" with poached lobster and jumbo crab salsa; the "Coreano," featuring Korean pork, apple kimchi escabeche and gochugaru BBQ; and a vegeterain farro-hazelnut taco, along with straight-up shrimp, barbacoa and carnitas.
Texas Jam House — where Barnett's sister Wynona is the executive chef — is a 24-hour spot with breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner and late-night menus, while the barbecue portion of Highway 61 South's menu describes the smoked brisket as "rubbed with some Texas dirt and slow-smoked for 18 hours. Served with hog wash and sliced white bread."
The nationally syndicated, Irving-based Kidd Kraddick Morning Show will relocate its studios to Big Beat Dallas, and will be live on the Main Stage on Thursday and Friday (if you want to see them, get there early — they're on from 6 to 10 a.m.).
They won't be the only radio personalities appearing: KHKS/106.1 FM "KISS-FM" afternoon DJ Billy the Kid will be at the "World's Largest Social Hour" from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday and Monday; classic-rock station KZPS/92.5 FM "Lone Star 92.5" will have a "Bring in the Weekend" party from 3 to 7 p.m. Friday; and KTCK/1310 AM/96.7 FM morning personalities George Dunham, Craig Miller and Gordon Keith, aka "The Musers," will broadcast live from the Main Stage from 6 to 9 a.m. Monday.
Big Beat Dallas is at 340 W. Las Colinas Blvd. in Irving. For further information on Big Beat Dallas, visit www.bigbeatdallas.com.