South by Southwest kept it country on Saturday night, as Garth Brooks played a historic free concert in downtown Austin to close out the music conference.
Held at the SXSW Outdoor Stage with Austin's glowing skyline and Lady Bird Lake in the background, Brooks' show was packed to the brim. On Friday, he announced that tickets would be only available to Austin residents. Within minutes the show sold out.
Brooks was clearly excited to return to Austin for his first time in 25 years, and fans were ecstatic to see him.
"I came here to have fun and raise hell!" he said, launching into an hour and a half set of nothing but the hits.
The mood was jubilant. For 90 minutes, Austin's downtown lakefront became a chorus of happy, drunk people singing Brooks' catalog of hits, and he loved every minute of it.
Ever the showman, Brooks sometimes ran to the back of the stage and sang to the people watching the show in the dark across the lake.
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There's no doubt that Brooks is one of the greatest entertainers of all time. Whether or not you enjoy his music, one has to appreciate how well he can command an audience, keep them happy, and perform at peak energy without missing a beat. Everything from the music to the showmanship is tight as a fiddle string.
Austin won't have to wait another 25 years for the chance to see a Garth Brooks concert. The concert was likely a litmus test to determine if Brooks should route his next tour through Austin. If the turnout and audience reaction were any indicators, it certainly would be. Feeding off the energy of the crowd, Brooks declared at the end of the show that he would return soon.
Whether or not he plays in Austin next year, you will have a chance to see him at the 2018 Houston Rodeo. He will open and close the event with two special concerts.