Film Reviews

Honky Tonk Heaven: The Legend of the Broken Spoke

Brenda Mitchell and Sam Wainwright Douglas (Wild Blue Yonder Films)

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Photos by Donna Marie Miller 


Honky Tonky Heaven: The Legend of the Broken Spoke both enchants and mesmerizes with 75 minutes of true stories from co-founders James and Annetta White and friends about Austin’s 52-year-old state treasure.

The Wild Blue Yonder Films crew, including directors Brenda Mitchell and Sam Wainwright Douglas, and directors of photography Lee Daniel and David Layton, worked behind the scenes for more than two years to capture the story of the Broken Spoke in interviews and in intimate details.

Cast and crew, together with producers Jenny Holm and Michelle Randolph Faires, celebrated on November 9th with a DVD screening and release party inside the Broken Spoke. About 200 people attended the event, including executive producers Scott Mitchell and Maria J. McDonald and contributors to the $62,000 Kickstarter campaign.

In the film, James White describes how, beginning in 1964, he booked Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb, Kitty Wells, Roy Acuff, Willie Nelson and George Strait. He expanded the Broken Spoke’s list of entertainers in the 1970s to include Jerry Jeff Walker, Gary P. Nunn, Ray Benson and Alvin Crow. By the 1990s, Cornell Hurd, Dale Watson and Jesse Dayton joined the scene. Meanwhile, Annetta White has regularly cooked up batches of her famous chicken fried steak and cream gravy.

Together, the Whites and their daughters, Ginny White-Peacock and Terri White, discuss how they have managed to keep the family business afloat for half a century. The roof leaked, at one time a tour bus drove through the back bar and a neighboring multi-use commercial multi-million dollar development threatened its future, but still the Broken Spoke survives.

Terri teaches dance lessons, while Ginny acts as business manager and sews “bling” onto her father’s vintage western shirts. James White’s colorful, Gene Autry-style costumes with wide roped yolks and five-snap button cuffs have become his trademark at the dance hall door as he greets visitors with a smile and a handshake.

Footage of live performances, one-of-a-kind country music memorabilia and the best dancers anywhere shine beneath its neon lights to make this visual story unforgettable. The documentary won the “Audience Award” at the 2016 SXSW Film, Music and Interactive Festival. Worldwide Broken Spoke fans and newcomers alike may now experience the thrill of a real Texas honky tonk from the comfort of their own homes.

– Donna Marie Miller

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