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SXSW Film review: ‘Honky Tonk Heaven: The Story of the Broken Spoke’

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“Honky Tonk Heaven: The Story of the Broken Spoke” documents one of the last and surely one of the most famous of the true Texas honky tonk/dancehalls.

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“Honky Tonk Heaven: The Story of the Broken Spoke” documents one of the last and surely one of the most famous of the true Texas honky tonk/dancehalls.

At its core, the film is about dancing and the dance tradition of Texas, the Texas two step, the slow Texas waltz. As it is reitirated many times throughout, “keep em’ dancing.”

“Honky Tonk Heaven” is also an ode and a cowboy hats-off moment to James White (pictured above) and Anetta White (and their family), the founders, proprietors and couple behind the Spoke’s storied legacy. It is no accident that the honky tonk has endured for more than 50 years through massive encroachment in the development of the South Lamar corridor.

White built the Broken Spoke with his own two hands, and “every drunk in South Austin worked on it,” he says.

“Honky Tonk Heaven” is not nostalgic, even though it drips with the past. It is a story of tradition and carrying on those traditions, good ol’ Texas charm and dancing. The documentary is told primarily from the vantage of the Whites and the musicians who cut their teeth on its legendary stage — a venue that has remained relatively untouched for over half a century, a place where Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys played, Ernest Tubb made regular appearances and Willie Nelson gigged clean-shaven with close-cropped hair.

It’s a must-see for fans of country music and Austin lore. Better yet, go south on Lamar from the Alamo theater and look to your left for the rustic red building under the big oak tree to experience a little bit of it. Lonestar and the chicken fried steak come highly recommended.

You can catch “Honky Tonk Heven: The Story of the Broken Spoke” at 1:45 p.m. Tuesday at the Marchesa; at 4:45 p.m. Thursday at the Topfer, and at 6:450 p.m. March 18 at the Alamo South.

 


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