Review: “Honky Tonk Heaven: The Legend of the Broken Spoke”

From the small stage with the low ceiling at the last of the true Texas dance halls, honky tonk legend Dale Watson sings, “On the south side of Austin/Every Texan knows/If you wanna two-step/Go find The Broken Spoke”— and filmmakers Brenda Greene Mitchell and Sam Wainwright Douglas have brought the Broken Spoke to us with their brilliant documentary, Honky Tonk Heaven.

Austin’s world famous Broken Spoke, a true family business where the main house rule is “No Standing On The Dance Floor”, was founded by the rhinestone shirt and cowboy hat-wearing James M. White (who still books the talent, does building maintenance like a modern-day MacGyver, and stands at the door regularly to greet patrons), along with his wife Annetta (who still tends the bar, wo-“mans” the kitchen, and cooks the best chicken fried steak in the Lone Star State) over fifty years ago.  The documentary explores Texas’ unique dancing tradition, born from the mixture of German, Mexican, and Czech immigrants that settled the Hill Country; dance halls were once a fixture in every town, but there are few remaining.  Once in the midst of a field, The Broken Spoke is now nestled between two towering condominium complexes, and sadly, there’s no guarantee that it too will not disappear in the name of rapid urban growth and continual building expansion.

Through superb commentary and priceless anecdotes provided not only by The Broken Spoke’s tenacious and monumentally hard-working owners, but also by the likes of  Willie Nelson, Gary P. Nunn, Asleep At The Wheel’s Ray Benson (who is too tall to stand on the stage itself when performing at the honky tonk), Jerry Jeff Walker, and Dale Watson, the viewer cannot help but realize the  immense historical and cultural impact that this little red dance hall has had–not only on the musicians and residents of Austin, but for people all over the globe who go there to experience what Texas is, or what it used to be.

Honky Tonk Heaven (Broken Spoke Documentary) Trailer from Brenda Mitchell on Vimeo.

Susan Hubbard

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