JACKSON HOLE, WYO – A bid by a Jackson Hole honkytonk to become a nationally recognized live music venue is off to a promising start.

The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone. The iconic watering hole is already one of the premier stops for travelers spending time in the Rocky Mountain West. A trip to Jackson simply isn’t complete without the requisite visit to the Cowboy Bar for ‘ride’ in one of the barstool saddles, a quick game of pool, or a two-step dance with a local cowboy or cowgirl.

Outlaw country star Darci Carlson has played the Cowboy Bar a few times now. She opened for Midland at last Sunday’s first-ever “Million Dollar Music Fest.” (Buckrail // Shannon Corsi)

But the music has always been sort of an afterthought. The bands were good. The beer was better.

But that’s all started to change under new ownership as Bill Baxter has made it clear his desire is for the Cowboy Bar to stage some of the finest regional and national touring acts of the day. As a performance venue, the Cowboy Bar is beginning to attract more than a few fan favorites.

Country music legends like Jo Dee Messina, Bellamy Brothers, Asleep at the Wheel, and Moe Bandy have made recent appearances. Regional powerhouses like Darci Carlson, Grant Farm, Ashley Barron, and Britnee Kellogg have all played or will play the venue this summer.

The exclamation point on the effort to raise the bar on musical attractions at the Cowboy can clearly be seen in the New Year’s Eve two-night booking of one of the hottest acts in country music right now: Midland. The Texas supergroup also returned last weekend to headline an inaugural “Million Dollar Music Fest” highlighting Old West Days celebration.

Midland bassist Cameron Duddy married his wife, fashion photographer Harper Smith, in Jackson Hole in 2013. (Buckrail // Shannon Corsi)

Judging from the response, the group has a new home away from home (the group’s bass player Cameron Duddy has ties to the area and even married fashion photographer Harper Smith in Jackson Hole in 2013). The new concert series looks very promising from the Cowboy’s end as well with Jim Waldrop, president of Silver Dollar Inc., (parent company of The Cowboy Bar) saying, “By partnering with Midland, one of the most exciting headline groups in country music today, we hope to celebrate the West in Jackson Hole and the entire region, and kick-off the season in grand Wyoming style.”

And boy howdy was it ever a success. Midland brought the house down after Adam Warner, Santa Poco, and Darci Carlson warmed up the stage for a weekend’s worth of music packed into one free, all-ages show on the town square last Sunday.

This music fest is going somewhere and so, it seems, is the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar.

“Million Dollar Music Fest” was a huge hit to cap off an Old West Days weekend celebration. (Buckrail // Shannon Corsi)