Robert Earl Keen packs Cosmic Coffee for a surprise final Austin show

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Robert Earl Keen's last Austin shows before his farewell tour ends this weekend in suburban San Antonio were expected to be his Sunday-Monday stand at ACL Live. But Keen had a couple of surprises in store.

Sunday night, he took over the Continental Club for a surprise midnight show that packed the small South Congress venue. And Tuesday afternoon, he was back on South Congress, a little farther down the road at Cosmic Coffee for a free happy-hour pop-up gig.

Initial plans were for the show to be in the spacious outdoor beer garden, but rain on Tuesday morning and afternoon resulted in a move to the indoor space that holds a couple hundred at most. Far more than that showed up, inevitably, but the beer garden proved an ideal spillover spot. Speakers were set up so that everyone outside could hear the music well, regardless of whether they could see Keen.

Even those inside had some trouble seeing him if they weren't near the stage. Back troubles have kept Keen in a chair for most of his final tour this summer. Keen announced in January that he'd play his last concerts on Labor Day weekend at John T. Floore's Country Store in Helotes, and now that week has arrived.

More:Robert Earl Keen talks about why he's retiring from the road this year

Keen played a few songs of his own choosing in the first half-hour at Cosmic before pulling songs from a batch of requests submitted by early-arriving attendees. They chose some good ones, including Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," the rollicking "Swervin' in My Lane," and the title track to Keen's 1984 debut album "No Kinda Dancer."

A four-piece band joined Keen onstage at Cosmic: his longtime rhythm section of bassist Bill Whitbeck and drummer Tom Van Schaik, plus multi-instrumentalist Brian Beken and guitarist Noah Jeffries.

Keen spun a few stories between songs before winding things up around 7:30 p.m, returning for a two-song encore of the fitting "I Gotta Go" and a cover of the traditional tune "Midnight Special."

"I would say we'll see you down the road," Keen said in the closing moments, "but if you see me down the road, go ahead and pick me up."

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Robert Earl Keen packs Cosmic Coffee for a surprise final Austin show