A very wise man named Waylon Jennings once said, “It don’t matter who’s in Austin, Bob Wills is still the King.” Well, as usual, 0l’ Waylon was right. His words still ring true, especially in the small town of Turkey, Texas.
Each April, Turkey, located in the Texas Panhandle about an hour and a half south of Amarillo, turns into the epicenter of Texas Swing. The sound of fiddle music and the smell of fried pies fills the air and the entire town shows up for a celebration of Turkey’s favorite son. Held on the last Saturday of April, Bob Wills Day is a 46-year tradition honoring the King of Western swing.
As Western Swing devotees gear up for the 46th annual Bob Wills Day, let’s take a look at the event and the man who inspired it.
Still the King
Bob Wills was born in Kosse, Texas, where he was raised on a cotton farm and learned to play fiddle and mandolin at an early age. When Wills was 14, the family moved to a farm outside of Turkey. Not content with a quiet rural life, Wills chose the rambling life at the age of 16. He hopped a freight train and left town. After traveling around the country on the railroads, Wills eventually moved back to Turkey and began working as a barber. But between haircuts, Wills was still fiddling.
Wills formed his now infamous Texas Playboys in the early 1930s. The band churned out a string of western swing hits and became superstars of the genre with songs such as “Time Changes Everything,” “Faded Love,” “Ida Red” and “Take Me Back to Tulsa.”
While the Playboys reigned throughout the 40s, their popularity began to wane in the 1950s as more commercial country too over the airwaves. But great music never dies. Wills was the king, after all. Younger acts such as Merle Haggard and Asleep at the Wheel continued to honor Wills’ legacy. Wills passed away in 1975 at the age of 70.
The town where Wills spent most of his youth and young adulthood never forgot their hometown hero. Each April, the town with a population of less that 500 hosts thousands of Wills fanatics. The celebration includes a fiddling contest, an arts and crafts show and hours of live music. Oh, and it’s all completely free.
Although Turkey is small — not much more than a mile long — its packed full of love for Bob Wills. And the townsfolk waste no time telling you about Turkey’s connection to the King of Texas Swing.
A Bob Wills monument, engraved with the entertainer’s biography and topped with a giant fiddle, sits on the western edge of town.
The Bob Wills Day celebration includes a parade through downtown Turkey.
You can even see some of Wills’ most prized possessions, such as his 1969 Lincoln.
What would Texas Swing be without dancing? Each year, Turkey hosts some of the best artist in the Western Swing genre to pay tribute to Bob. This year, Jason Roberts, Billy Mata and Jody Nix are among the artists taking the stage on Saturday.
Turkey is also the home of the Bob Wills Museum, which houses memorabilia from the heyday of the Texas Playboys. In no time you’ll find yourself mimicking Bob’s iconic call of “Aww-haaaw!”
While in town, stay at the Hotel Turkey, a historic hotel that’s been in business since 1927. The hotel is owned by Turkey’s mayor, Pat Carson.
All the dancing to fiddle tunes will no doubt leave you with a hankering for down home Texas cookin’. Look no further than Galvan’s for a delicious breakfast fit for a king (and his Texas Playboys).
Before veering too far away from Turkey, be sure to visit the Caprock Canyons State Park, located just outside of town. Filled with breathtaking vistas, Caprock Canyons is also home to part of Texas’ official state bison herd.
Spring has arrived at Caprock Canyons! We welcomed the first calf of 2017 to the park today! #wherebisonroam #wildlife #texas #tpwd #betteroutside #txstateparkambassadors #txstateparks #bison #optoutside #naturevibes #ilovetheoutdoors #natureislife #outdoorlovers #springtime #adventure #outdoorlife #calf #ig_texas #tx #bisonherd
Bob Wills Day takes place on April 29, 2017. For more information, click here.