Garth Brooks Plays Surprise Show at Legendary Texas Honky-Tonk Ahead of SXSW Gig

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Ben Krebs c GCOM

 

Garth Brooks started his first visit to South By Southwest on Friday (March 17) by announcing a big show -- a free concert Saturday on the festival’s Outdoor Stage. But he finished the day with a smaller but memorable one.

Brooks made a surprise appearance Friday night at Austin’s Broken Spoke dance hall, playing a 45-minute solo acoustic show between sets by the house band. Two-stepping locals gave way to concert mania as those who were in the know crushed at the front and sides of the stage in the legendary roadhouse, a regular residence for Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys and, as venue owner James White told the crowd, an early stop for a certain fledgling singer-songwriter from Oklahoma who went on to become the best-selling solo artist ever in the U.S.

Brooks, sporting a plaid workshirt over a Lone Star beer T-shirt and a baseball cap featuring his small g logo, was as exuberant as those who were lucky enough to be in the room. “I can’t remember the last time I’ve done this,” he said, grinning broadly and clearly relishing a situation as far away from his usual arena-sized spectacles as the Broken Spoke was from downtown Austin, where the usual array of nightly showcases raged several miles away.

Brooks played mostly truncated versions of 16 songs, pushing the already torqued room in front of him in high gear with “Friends In Low Places” before dipping into Merle Haggard’s Texas-centric “The Fightin’ Side of Me” and Joe Nichols’ “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Of.” Mostly, however, it was a parade of Brooks hit – with sing-alongs frequently conducted by the man himself -- including “The Thunder Rolls,” “Rodeo,” “Papa Loved Mama” and “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old).” “Two Pina Coladas” and the honky tonkin’ “Two Of A Kind (Workin’ On A Full House)” played particularly well in the Broken Spoke while quieter selections such as “The River,” “The Dance” and George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today” were a bit more challenging as the crowd took the better part of the first verses and choruses to quiet down.

Brooks encored with a rowdy “Callin’ Baton Rouge” and gave Broken Spoke owner White his guitar as a gift before ceding the stage to the house band’s next set. He may not have been able to remember the last time he played such a tiny, intimate show, but those who were there will likely never forget it.


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