The Broken Spoke: Austin's Legendary Honky-Tonk

The Broken Spoke: Austin's Legendary Honky-Tonk

The Broken Spoke: Austin's Legendary Honky-Tonk

The Broken Spoke: Austin's Legendary Honky-Tonk


James and Annetta White opened the Broken Spoke in 1964, then a mile south of the Austin city limits, under a massive live oak, and beside what would eventually become South Lamar Boulevard. White built the place himself, beginning construction on the day he received his honorable discharge from the US Army. And for more than fifty years, the Broken Spoke has served up, in the words of White's well-worn opening speech, "... cold beer, good whiskey, the best chicken fried steak in town... and good country music."

White paid thirty-two dollars to his first opening act, D. G. Burrow and the Western Melodies, back in 1964. Since then, the stage at the Spoke has hosted the likes of Bob Wills, Dolly Parton, Ernest Tubb, Ray Price, Marcia Ball, Pauline Reese, Roy Acuff, Kris Kristofferson, George Strait, Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Asleep at the Wheel, and the late, great Kitty Wells. But it hasn't always been easy; through the years, the Whites and the Spoke have withstood their share of hardship--a breast cancer diagnosis, heart trouble, the building's leaky roof, and a tour bus driven through its back wall.

Today the original rustic, barn-style building, surrounded by sleek, high-rise apartment buildings, still sits on South Lamar, a tribute and remembrance to an Austin that has almost vanished. Housing fifty years of country music memorabilia and about a thousand lifetimes of memories at the Broken Spoke, the Whites still honor a promise made to Ernest Tubb years ago: they're "keepin' it country."


When one of Frederick Jackson Turner’s students at Wisconsin or Harvard pioneered a new area of research and writing, the famous historian of the American West would often say, “You have broken new ground.” This is exactly what Donna Marie Miller has done in this book. She “broke new ground.” Like Turner, she has courageously opened a new frontier for historical studies, telling the story of a famous dance hall in Austin, the Broken Spoke. At the same time, she has told the story of James and Annetta White. Miller writes in minute detail how the Whites built the Broken Spoke and remodeled it again and again.

For over half a century, the Broken Spoke has been part of the landscape of Austin. Miller’s book is a necessary page in the overall urban history of the capital of the Lone Star State. in the mid-1940s during “The Golden Age” of American music, “The Age of the Big Bands,” I was a student at Austin High School. Glenn Miller, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Harry James, Benny Goodman, and even Bob Wills led popular dance orchestras. Their music was about all one heard in Austin and most other places.

The Whites and their Broken Spoke played a major role in introducing many other musical genres to Austin, which ultimately created musical diversity that made Austin a sort of “Nashville West.” the Broken Spoke introduced country music, western swing, rockabilly, outlaw music … the list is almost endless.

The artists who performed at the Broken Spoke include Ernest Tubb, Bob Wills, Jerry Jeff Walker, Kinky Friedman, Willie Nelson, Asleep at the Wheel, Dolly Parton, Ray Price, Kitty Wells, Don Walser, Gary P. Nunn, Jason Roberts, George Strait, Billy Mata, Jody Nix, and Alvin Crow, the nearest thing to a house band the Broken Spoke has ever had.

As the fame and appeal of the Broken Spoke spread, so did the appearance of celebrities such as Robert Duvall, Coach Darrell Royal of the University of Texas, Mario Andretti, and that most gracious of women—the First Lady of Austin and Texas’ Lady Bird Johnson.

Miller seems to have the same spirit and love for the Broken Spoke that its founders have. She writes about the old place with the passion one has . . .

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