George Strait once crooned, “I ain’t here for a long time. I’m here for a good time.”
But Rockin’ Rodeo was here for both.
After 13 years at its 1009 Ave. C location under the ownership of Lloyd Banks, Denton’s go-to honky-tonk will ride off into the sunset come April 14. Banks said he recently got word from his landlord, Westdale Properties, that it had sold the Carriage Square Shopping Center where the live music venue sits. He and the other tenants have to be out by the end of June, he said.
“I’ve known it was coming,” Banks said. “I just didn’t know of an exact D-Day.”
The writing was on the wall at Carriage Square, mostly in the form of shuttered shops and “We’re Moving” signs.
Supercuts, Chase Bank, The Bowllery and Pancho’s Mexican Buffet already bid farewell to the shopping center and closed their doors. Save for Dollar General, which has a hiring sign outside its store, the lingering shops at Carriage Square are all looking for a new space or moving into one they’ve already found.
What will become of the 114,000-square-foot shopping center remains uncertain at this point, but rumors continue to bubble.
Some say the University of North Texas bought the property and has plans to turn the space into a dormitory or a parking structure, but university officials denied that claim, saying the school hadn’t purchased the land. Others are sure a private company bought the center and intends to raze it to build more student apartments, but there are no finalized sale documents in the county land records database.
No one from Westdale Properties returned requests for comment by Monday evening. The property is valued at $4.6 million by the Denton Central Appraisal District.
UNT’s interest in the property is an open secret. The university has been working to buy up land around the center for a few years now, most notably the Sack & Save grocery store in 2015 as well as the IHOP and McDonald’s last August. UNT’s 2013 Master Plan even labels the Carriage Square area as a future “partnership development,” but that term hasn’t been defined further.
“We have a continuing interest to have a quality development at the entrance to campus as indicated by our master plan,” said UNT System spokeswoman Ashley Johnson.
But Banks said he isn’t interested in what happens to Carriage Square. He’s more interested in giving Rockin’ Rodeo and its customers a proper swan song. The venue will continue to host live music parties every night until it closes and might still have some tricks up its sleeve.
“I’m still quietly working on some last-minute surprises,” he said. “They might happen, they might not. But I’d rather go out in a blaze of glory.”
When Banks bought the bar in 2005, he was set on bringing in live music from different genres.
In addition to country music, Banks booked rock and hip-hop shows, bringing in Texas favorites like the Toadies, Bowling for Soup and Mike Jones.
“I like to think we’ve evolved over the years,” he said. “The biggest concert we’ve ever had here to date is [rapper] Waka Flocka Flame. I find that incredibly weird and interesting.”
But Rockin’ Rodeo didn’t abandon its country name completely. Surrounded by guitars of those who’ve played there, Banks rattled off a list of big name acts: Josh Abbott, Casey Donahew, Brantley Gilbert, Cody Canada, Ryan Bingham, the Eli Young Band.
“We’ve gotten lucky and struck gold a couple of times,” he said. “Rockin’ Rodeo used to be a place where a lot of up-and-comers wanted to play and needed to play. It was a good stepping stone for them. Unfortunately, nobody wants to play Denton anymore.”
Banks, 46, has been managing clubs and bars in Denton for two decades and said the closure of Rockin’ Rodeo is another blow to Denton’s live music scene.
“From a guy who went to college here a million years ago and walked into a great live music scene and watched it even get better, I feel sorry for everybody right now,” he said. “For whatever reason, Denton does not support live music like it used to and that’s why it’s going away.”
Despite a downturn in live music acts coming to Denton, Rockin’ Rodeo has maintained a loyal following. When Banks announced the venue’s upcoming closure on Saturday via Facebook, the heartbreak followed. Several people shared memories on the post, saying they met their spouse on the dance floor or worked their first college job there.
“We talked about how many Rockin’ Rodeo babies there might be,” Banks joked. “There’s got to be a few of those running around.”
Although Banks said Rockin’ Rodeo needs to be put to bed, he’s not completely ruling out the idea of bringing a similar concept to another location in Denton. He just hopes Denton will be there to support it if he does.
“Everything is on the table right now,” Banks said. “Right now, everyone’s going to tell me that Denton needs this, but there really aren’t any dance clubs in Denton. There’s a billion places to go drink, so if you’re into boozing, you’re in luck. But if you actually want to go see good live music or go dancing, you’re out of luck in Denton these days. That’s sad to me, but maybe it’s not to other people because that seems to be what Denton cares about supporting these days.”
CAITLYN JONES can be reached at 940-566-6862.