For better or worse, Asleep at the Wheel’s longtime hometown of Austin, Texas, has changed an awful lot over the last 40 years. It’s depressing to tally up all the funky enclaves that have been paved over in the name of runaway growth, and it sure isn’t the same town it was during the Armadillo era I wrote about in my University of Texas Master’s Thesis. But Austin still has plenty to recommend it. I’m sure my “Comin’ Right at Ya” co-writer/subject/star Ray Benson will never leave, and I always love going back to visit. I’m already counting the days until next month’s South By Southwest.
One lingering repository of how The Old Austin ™ used to be is The Broken Spoke, an old-style honky tonk that used to be surrounded by empty fields south of downtown. Urban sprawl swallowed up that stretch of South Lamar long ago, but The Spoke is still standing. Seeing a show there feels kind of like visiting a game preserve, surrounded as it is by high-rise condos and such.
Inside, however, the place feels pretty much the same as it did when I started going there during my circa-1980s college days, with ceilings low enough to make me glad I’m nowhere near as tall as Ray. And above right is a picture from a show I really wish I’d been able to make it to, Willie Nelson sitting in with the Wheel Thursday night to benefit Turk Pipkin’s Nobelity Project.
Great cause, and I can’t imagine the show was anything but great, too — and man, I can practically taste the Lone Star beer and chicken-fried steak. As long as The Spoke survives, a piece of Old Austin will live on. I find that comforting, y’all.