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More than a birthday party: dance hall Broken Spoke celebrates late owner with free concert

The Broken Spoke will celebrate its 57th birthday with a free tribute to late owner James White on Thursday. (Broken Spoke/Facebook)

Amid the stories-high new apartment complexes, trendy hangouts and casual cafes on South Lamar lay the stuff of honky-tonk legend.

Country hangout Broken Spoke, which has housed greats like George Strait and the Dixie Chicks, is celebrating its 57th anniversary with a free show in honor of its late owner James White on Thursday night.

White ran the family business from its conception in 1964 until he passed at 81 years of age in January after undergoing surgery for a leaky heart valve.

White is credited with helping spread the saloon culture as he helped legendary country music artists get their start in the dance hall, including Kitty Wells, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson, who first performed at the venue in 1967. Signed pictures with stars like Dolly Parton and Garth Brooks line the dance hall's walls.

Country music fans and artists alike mourned White's passing in January, with over 85,000 viewing his funeral online. Strait, who featured the Broken Spoke on his 2019 album "Honky Tonk Time Machine," said his death would leave "a deep hole in the Texas Honky Tonk world."

"Some of my greatest memories are of playing the Broken Spoke back in the late 70's and early 80's," Strait said via Twitter. "He gave me and the unknown at the time Ace In Hole Band a chance to play in front of people and no doubt was a big part of our success....May God rest his Honky Tonk soul."

His family grieved as well, though they were soon busy with keeping the storied concert hall alive in his wake. Annetta White, White's wife of 60 years, and his daughter Ginny White-Peacock, who was first taken to the Broken Spoke when she was 11 days old, are determined to keep the business thriving.

"This is his dream, and we want to keep his dream going," White-Peacock told CBS Austin. "It's so important because in Austin places like the Broken Spoke are disappearing quickly."

After a COVID-safe funeral service, the venue is looking to honor White once again with a free event Thursday night. It'll feature over 15 artists, including Rosie Flores, Billy Mata, Tracie Lynn, Jeff Hughes, Kimmie Rhodes and more from 8 p.m.-12 a.m.

And of course, White's big red truck will be parked right alongside the famous 54' Cadillac just outside the iconic dance hall's doors.

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