The Broken Spoke

Honky-tonk brings country music to the city

James White, The Broken Spoke's 73-year-old co-owner, is never short of stories.

From recalling going to honky-tonks as a child with his parents to the time his idol, Bob Wills, the legendary co-founder of American swing music, played a show at his venue, White said he has accumulated plenty of memories while giving customers memories of their own since opening The Broken Spoke in 1964.

"I wanted it to be a place like no other," he said. "When people open the [Broken Spoke's] front door, they know they are not in Carnegie Hall; they are in the best dance hall in Texas."

White said there was not another building in sight when he opened The Broken Spoke. However, the honky-tonk is now saddled between construction on two high-rise condos and is in an area that has turned into a highly developed corridor.

Despite the development, White said he is trying to make the most out of the situation.

"You kind of try to take it as it comes," he said. "When all is said and done, we will have 500 new neighbors, and we will try to make country music lovers out of them."

White was 25 when he opened The Broken Spoke. He said he thought about opening the honky-tonk while in the Army and wanted it to be like the honky-tonks and bars he went to with his parents growing up in Austin.

"I just wanted a place of my own," he said. "I never, ever didn't think it would be successful. I jumped in with both feet and just had to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week to make it work."

In addition to booking local bands and musicians such as Alvin Crow and Dale Watson, nationally known artists such as Willie Nelson, George Strait and Roy Acuff have played at The Broken Spoke.

White runs The Broken Spoke with his wife, Annetta, and their daughters are also involved in the business. While White said he has watched Austin dramatically change, his mission has remained the same.

"I've never strayed too far from the country music roots," he said. "I love country music. I've always been that way. It's what I was raised on, and I've always kept it like that."

Two-step dance lessons

The Broken Spoke hosts dance lessons Wednesday–Saturday from 8–9 p.m.

The dance lessons, which cost $8, focus on the Texas two-step and are run by Terri White, the daughter of co-owners James and Annetta White. The Texas two-step is the country-western dance that usually consists of two quick steps and a slow step.

"I think we probably give the best dance lessons out of anywhere in town," James White said.

Food at the Spoke

In addition to dancing and music, The Broken Spoke serves food Tuesday–Saturday.

The menu includes Mexican dinners, barbecue plates and what owner James White calls the best chicken-fried steak in town.

The chicken-fried steak is breaded twice and served with a house-made gravy. White said much of the menu has dishes made from longstanding family recipes.

'Songwriters Across Texas'

A TV show focusing on local songwriters is filmed at The Broken Spoke and airs Sundays at 11:30 a.m. on CW Austin KNVA.

"Songwriters Across Texas," which is from Executive Producer Pitt Garrett, features performances from one established and one up-and-coming Texas songwriter. The 30-minute episodes include off-stage interviews with the songwriters as well as a "Broken Spoke Memories" segment hosted by the venue's owner, James White.

During the episodes, selected songwriters perform with a house band consisting of drummer Wes Starr, upright bassist Billy Horton, pianist Nick Connolly and guitarist Redd Volkaert. Volkaert said "Songwriters Across Texas" is a valuable asset for local songwriters.

"Where else are they going to get this exposure?" he said. "It's a wonderful opportunity."

For more information, visit www.songwritersacrosstexas.com.

3201 S. Lamar Blvd., 512-442-6189, www.brokenspokeaustintx.com