SXSW Music Live: Garth Brooks

Stage antics get winded but not his bestselling catalog

Headlining SXSW 2017 with a last-minute free concert at Auditorium Shores on Saturday night, Garth Brooks at 55 is a necessarily different entertainer than the Nineties superstar who transformed country music by climbing stage riggings and wearing out audiences.

Photo by Gary Miller

The country icon was winded and hoarse by the third song, but that didn’t stop him from continually playing to the crowd with the expert showmanship that’s made his current three-year tour the largest in the world. The fact that it swung through SXSW boasts an unparalleled accomplishment for the music festival and city.

Brooks ran through nearly 20 songs in his 90 minutes, though some received only first verses and choruses. Opening with a hard-charging, four-guitar-powered “Rodeo,” the rousing “Two of a Kind, Workin' on a Full House,” and quick drop into “The River,” the Oklahoma native showcased why he’s the top-selling solo artist in U.S. history, while still remaining characteristically humble and thankful to the fans throughout.

Challenging the crowd to sing along, he offered up exceptional but abbreviated solo versions of “Unanswered Prayers” and “If Tomorrow Never Comes.” Then his 11-piece backing outfit blew into “The Thunder Rolls.” Brooks’ croon proved still capable on the following “Shameless.”

“I hear we have a noise curfew, but we don’t call it noise, we call it music!” belted Brooks as the band led into the fiddle-fired “Callin’ Baton Rouge.”

He thanked SXSW for keeping the show just for Austin residents, with the field reciprocating to sing “Friends in Low Places” and closing highlight sway “The Dance.”

Given his shortened set time, Brooks' decision to lead his encore with Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” and George Strait’s “Amarillo by Morning” confounded, but the five-song reprise rose with “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)” and “Standing Outside the Fire.” Brooks no longer matches the stage energy of a new generation of popular country stars, but with his catalog of hits, he hardly needs to rely on antics anymore.

Set List, Auditorium Shores, 3.18.17

“Two of a Kind, Workin' on a Full House”
“The River”
“Two Pina Coladas”
“Papa Loved Mama”
“Ain’t Going Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)”
“Unanswered Prayers”
“If Tomorrow Never Comes”
“That Summer”
“The Thunder Rolls”
“Callin’ Baton Rouge”
“Friends in Low Places”
“The Dance”

“Piano Man”
“Amarillo by Morning”
“Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)”
“Longneck Bottle”
“Standing Outside the Fire”

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