About this project
The Broken Spoke embodies the term "icon" twofold. The building itself is the stuff of local legend. It has seen the likes of Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, and a young George Strait.
Then there's James White, the Broken Spoke's gregarious owner. He is as well-known and well-loved as the dance hall he & his no-nonsense wife, Annetta have operated for over 50 years.
This is their story.
In the half century since this unassuming, rustic wooden structure welcomed its first guests, the Broken Spoke has witnessed the excitement and growing pains of a booming metropolis.
Its proprietors have enjoyed great times and weathered tough times. They've seen iconic Austin music venues torn down in the name of progress, yet they persevere with an upbeat optimism and fierce determination.
HONKY TONK HEAVEN captures the essence of the Broken Spoke's storied country music heritage and its fight to stay relevant in Austin’s changing economic and physical landscape. The story would not be complete without a diverse cast of characters – the Whites, their family, the musicians, and the fans – whose lives are indelibly intertwined with the legendary Texas dance hall.
From the Red Headed Stranger to the Queen of Country Music, the Broken Spoke has hosted an all-star cast of legendary performers. The Whites continue to stay true to the roots of traditional country music by booking only top notch musicians, like Dale Watson and Ray Benson.
October 12, 2015
Two weeks ago, on the sweetest day, we filmed for the last time. At the White ranch, it was as beautiful a Hill Country day as God could bestow upon us. Tailgating with Annetta as James drove us to their favorite spots. Listening to them share Spoke stories on James' big rock. And just watching the love between them, after 49 years of marriage, having a family and running a honky tonk together for 50 years.
Choosing to make a documentary on the Broken Spoke....let me tell you how my journey began. Over ten years ago, I celebrated my 50th birthday at the Spoke with my dearest friends and family. I'd been there many times, but dancing with my husband and kids and watching other couples dance, taking in the neon beer signs, the jukebox and James White warmly greeting his patrons, my heart was filled with such love for this timeless Texas dance hall. I dreamed of making this documentary that night.
But I was busy raising kids and was sure someday, someone else would make this film. Then 2 years ago, something scary happened. The land surrounding the Spoke was bought by developers and overnight, I witnessed the emergence of multistory apartment buildings dwarfing our beloved honky tonk. The times, they were a changin' and yet, James White's mantra was "We ain't changin nothin".That was the moment I knew I had to roll up my sleeves and jump in.
James and Annetta have been amazing troopers, giving our crew full access to their lives, the musicians, the dancers, and the tourists. Their trust in me taking the reins was huge; we couldn't ask for more generous and colorful Texas dance hall proprietors to film. So as the sun set yesterday and we all breathed in the moment, I was simply filled with peace and gratitude about this journey.
We are not finished. We are editing away and seriously into post-production and out of money. So we are turning to you, our dear friends, to help us finish this important film. Stay tuned and happy trails!!
Brenda Greene Mitchell
Co-Director / Producer
Brenda is a small town native Texan who grew up in central Texas dance halls. This became an integral part of her social upbringing. In 1982, she and husband, Scott Mitchell, bought and restored the historic Wunsche Bros. Café in Spring, TX. She booked and hosted countless Texas folk musicians, including Lyle Lovett, Jerry Jeff Walker, Townes Van Zandt, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and Clint Black. She founded and co-produced the Spring Music Festival from 1988 to 1992, which showcased Texas musicians and drew up to 5,000 attendees yearly. In 1993, Brenda and her family moved to Austin. She co-produced her first short film, Redemption, and managed extras casting on the indie film, Flushed. She was an executive producer on the indie hit Somebody Up There Likes Me, which premiered at SXSW in 2012, and on Icebraker, which is currently in post-production. Her deep desire to preserve the story of the legendary Broken Spoke dance hall inspired her to document it through film. HONKY TONK HEAVEN is her directorial debut.
Sam Wainwright Douglas
Co-Director / Editor
Sam is a director and editor working in Austin, TX. Sam edited and co-produced No No: A Dockumentary, which premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, screened theatrically in 35 cities and was broadcast on Showtime throughout December 2014. Sam also edited and produced the PBS documentary Ladonna Harris: Indian 101, which was executive produced by Johnny Depp and screened throughout November 2014 on PBS. He last directed Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee And The Spirit Of The Rural Studio, which was broadcast on PBS in 2010. He co-directed The Holy Modal Rounders…Bound To Lose (2006) and has edited, as well as produced, other feature documentaries such as Along Came Kinky: Texas Jewboy For Governor, which had its premiere at SXSW in 2009. As an editor, he has cut countless hours of television for PBS, HBO, A&E, The Discovery Channel, and The Food Network.
A graduate of the University of Texas and founding member of Austin Film Society, Daniel has amassed an impressive collection of cinematography credits, including feature films and documentaries. He is best known for his work on Boyhood, The Unforeseen, Fast Food Nation, Dazed and Confused, and the groundbreaking Slacker. He is currently working on the Wendell Berry documentary with director Laura Dunn.
David Layton is best known for his cinematography work on 61 Bullets, The Unforeseen, Waiting for Superman, multiple episodes of the television series Independent Lens and American Experience, as well as the series Doomsday Preppers.
Michelle Randolph Faires
Michelle joined the Broken Spoke project in January 2015 as part of the producing team. Additionally, she has been working as part of the producing team for the film Leslie since 2011, a documentary about the life of Austin's own Albert Leslie Cochran, due in 2016. Michelle has been involved in several local non-profit, film-based organizations for the past several years including Austin Film Festival, where she served as the 20th Annual Festival and Conference Hospitality Coordinator in 2013 and 2014. The following year she joined AFF as a full-time staff member, serving as Outreach Coordinator. Michelle worked for approximately 3 years as Volunteer Coordinator and Festival Manager for aGLIFF/Polari, as well as serving 3 years on the Board of Directors. In both organizations, Michelle has served on screening teams at each organization sharpening her skills as a storyteller through the medium of film.
Jenny Holm is a native Texan with deep roots in Austin. Even as a toddler, she spent many hours in dance halls. Her father, Guich Koock, is former owner of world-famous Luckenbach. She has a true love of traditional country music and is thrilled to share the story of the Broken Spoke with audiences. While this is her first opportunity to work on a documentary, past film experiences include Michael, True Women, Equinox Knocks, Hope Floats, and Office Space.
Help us FINISH the film!
If you are interested in donating more than the suggested amounts, please contact us directly.
We are proud to have the support of the Austin Film Society.
Risks and challenges
The filmmakers have a deeply-rooted and personal appreciation for the culture surrounding Texas dance halls, and in particular, the Broken Spoke. We started this journey with a great story set to phenomenal music. With a whole lot of tenacity, some tried and true Texas grit, and a few ice-cold Lone Stars, we’re out of principal photography and on to post-production.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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