Dallas International Film Festival 2016

honky tonk Greetings again from the darkness. “The last of the true Texas dance halls and damn sure proud of it.” If you have ever stepped booted foot into The Broken Spoke on South Lamar in Austin, you have likely heard silver-tongued owner James White rattle off this intro. Co-directors Sam Wainwright Douglas and Brenda Mitchell deliver the ultimate tribute … actually a good old fashioned love letter … to this iconic Austin landmark.

At its core, The Broken Spoke is about the music and the dancing, but since Mr. White (built and) opened the doors in 1964, it’s now part of Austin and country music history. Over those 50 years, George Strait played in the house band, Willie Nelson sang with short hair and no beard, Bob Wills actually showed up for his gig, and that low-rise stage under a low-hanging roof has been played by a ‘who’s who’ of performers (Jerry Jeff Walker, Gary P Nunn, Ray Benson, Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubbs) … all under the loving care of Mr. White.

The real story goes beyond music. It’s the family business run by James and Annetta White, and their daughters who were raised under the leaky roof as the dancing couples waltzed their way around the oval floor. One of the daughters now teaches newcomers how to 2-step, while the other hand-stitches each rhinestone onto Daddy’s signature glitzy western shirts. Annetta can be found pouring drinks from behind the bar or cooking up a batch of chicken fried steak from her own recipe … she says “napping makes you lazy”. Husband James makes the nightly rounds greeting customers, and even occasionally joining the band for a song. Theirs is a family and business success and these two deserve every bit of respect that industry insiders and loyal customers offer up.

As Mr. White parks his immaculate white classic Cadillac under the giant oak tree, it provides the perfect visual for his earlier statement that The Broken Spoke took off once the hippies and rednecks realized they shared common ground with dancing to country music. While urban creep threatens the “old” Austin feel, it only takes Dale Watson’s colorful description of the difference between a honky tonk and a dance hall, to bring it right back.

You probably don’t want to ask Mr. White for a recommendation on a local roofer, and you best remember the house rule … “Don’t stand on the dance floor!” What the film does is answer the question “Where did you come from?” and has us dreading the day when we ask “Where did you go?” about The Broken Spoke.

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