The stage at Austin’s Broken Spoke Dancehall is tiny. The ceilings are low. And when a capacity crowd is packed in tight, it can feel like a sauna.
But that didn’t seem to bother Garth Brooks one bit.
“I’ll tell you this, though, if the honkytonks were like this when I was in ’em, I would’ve never left,” Brooks told the 500 people who got in to see his surprise show on Friday night (March 17).
Those fans, who’d only paid a $12 cover to get in to what seemed like a real life “American Honky-Tonk Bar Association,” became Brooks’ only backing band as he took the stage around 11 p.m. in jeans, a plaid pearl snap and a Lone Star Beer t-shirt, armed with just a guitar.
He played for nearly an hour, playing a long list of his most well-known tunes like “Two Pina Coladas,” “The Dance,” “That Summer,” “Friends in Low Places,” “Two of a Kind (Working on a Full House),” “Callin’ Baton Rouge,” “Thunder Rolls,” plus a medley of covers including George Jones‘ “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” George Strait‘s “Amarillo By Morning,” Merle Haggard‘s “The Fighting Side of Me,” and Joe Nichols‘ “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off.”
“I haven’t got to do something like this in a hundred years,” Brooks said, adding as he looked around at the crowd, “This is (expletive) awesome.”
The next night, Brooks played a more official SXSW show for a more robust crowd. And he played for twice as long. There were an estimated 16,000 people at Austin’s at Auditorium Shores to see him roll through a long set list of hits and covers.
Brooks also spent time on Friday afternoon speaking at SXSW about his opposition to President Donald Trump’s proposal to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.