Texas dancehalls become thing of the past
Wed, 06 Aug 2014 19:14:13 GMT —
CNN -- Some of the biggest stars in country music go their starts playing in small Texas dancehalls. But some of these Texas institutions are fading into the past.
"The day I got out of the Army, I starting building the Broken Spoke," said James White. "That was 1964 and I was 25 years old."
White is now 75. His beloved Broken Spoke still shines like the rhinestones on his shirt.
He built his dancehall institution on two concepts: cold beer -- $.025 a bottle in those days -- and good music.
The Broken Spoke has seen many top-notch performers including Bob Wills, Willie Nelson, George Strait, Dolly Parton, and many more.
That superstar power has kept the Spoke rolling.
Just 45 miles south, 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 have graced the stage of Gruene Hall.
There've been guys who will play for tips only on Sundays, all the way up to Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, Los Lobos.
Gruene Hall is the kind of 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 [the Hall] was the social center of the town," said Shane Roch, manager of Gruene Hall.
But while dancehalls like Gruene Hall and the Broken Spoke in Austin pack 'em in night after night, the reality is that dancehalls in Texas are fading.
From more than 1,000 in their hay-day to less than 500 now.
Barbra and Tim Worthy run the Old Coupland Dancehall and Inn.
"It's not as good as it used to be," said Barbra.
"It takes quite a bit of maintenance, especially on an old building," added Tim. "Our old building is 108 years old, so you know it has its problems."
Maintenance is just one of the struggles for old Texas dancehalls. Paying for music is another.
A lot of dancehalls hire older musicians or upcoming artists, because the ones who fall in the middle are too expensive to hire.
Another issue coming to light right now is a performing rights fee or a royalty fee.
Patrick Sparks with Texas Dancehall Preservation is a part of a group helping fight those fees, which can be as high as $3,000...and it can be a serious threat to whether or not a dancehall can continue to operate.
Urban growth is another threat creeping in on dancehalls. Apartment buildings are now surrounding the Broken Spoke, making them feel like the Alamo.
But the dancehall story doesn't have to end like the Alamo. That growth is also an opportunity to introduce people to this piece of Texas heritage and save dancehalls one two-step at a time.
"We ain't fancy, but we damn sure are country," said White. "And the good news is we ain't changin' nothin'."