Saving Texas Dance Halls

A look at the disappearing dance halls of Texas

A look at the disappearing dance halls of Texas

Gruene Hall
Austin Photo: Places_Food_Broken_Spoke

KVUE — Some of the biggest stars in country music got their starts playing in small Texas dance halls. But some of these Texas institutions are fading into the past while others thrive.

"The day I got out of the army I started building the Broken Spoke. That was 1964, and I was 25 years old," said James White, the owner of the Broken Spoke in Austin. White is now 75 years old, but his beloved Broken Spoke still shines like the rhinestones on his red and black country western shirt. He built a dance hall institution on two concepts: cold beer, which was 25 cents a bottle in those days, and good music.

Acts like Bob Wills, Willie Nelson, George Strait and Dolly Parton were regulars on the Spoke stage. Their old photographs line the wall of White's memorabilia room. "I had over 20 country music hall of famers who performed here," said White.

That superstar power has kept the Spoke rolling.

Just 45 miles south is the place that claims to be the oldest continually operating dance hall in Texas has cashed in on the star power, too. Everybody who's anybody (and many who started as nobody) in the world of country music have graced the stage of Gruene Hall. Manager Shane Roch said, "There's guys who play you know for free for tips on Sunday all the way up to Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett [and] Los Lobos."

Gruene Hall is a place where flip flops and cowboy boots circle lock-step on the dance floor. The old wooden building has been the glue holding a community together for 136 years. "Gruene started as a German immigrant farmer town, and it was the social center of the town. This used to be the mainstay of small towns all across Texas," said Roch

While dance halls like Gruene Hall and the Broken Spoke pack them in night after night the reality is, many dance halls in Texas are fading away. There were more than a thousand in their heyday of the early 1900s. That number has shrunk to less than 500 now.

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