SXSW 2017 Day 4: Garth Brooks Rocks a Honky-Tonk, Lana Del Rey Coos the Hits & More

Garth Brooks made his first SXSW appearance on Friday (March 17), and the country superstar's presence at the Texas fest seemed to dominate conversation that day. But apart from Garth, the name on everyone's lips was Lana Del Rey, whose confirmed Friday night appearance at the Apple Music showcase was the hottest ticket in town.

Billboard's on-the-scene reporters share standout moments from Day 3 of the music portion of SXSW, from the dive bars to the industry panels.

12:32 p.m.: You might think that four dudes doing indie rock would be impossibly played out by 2017, and while you're gonna be right 90 percent of the time, there are always a few bands that manage to make the well-worn format feel lively, vivid and relevant. Such is the case with Hippo Campus, a quartet from St. Paul, Minnesota, whose dreamy, sundazed indie rock was a perfect midday SXSW set. "Thank you for spending your morning with Hippo Campus -- coffee and indie rock," singer Jake Luppen cheekily told the crowd not long after dedicating a track to fellow Twin Cities artist Lizzo. – Joe Lynch

1:48 p.m.: The young French singer Jain was expected to take the stage at FLOODFest at Cedar Street, but apparently there was a set time mix-up -- at least that was the rumor backstage in the gifting suite, where Original Penguin doled out hipster jackets and sunglasses to rockers Mondo Cozmo and rapper Kosha Dillz, both of whom played earlier in the day. Gone are the days of insane amounts of crazy-expensive SXSW swag, even for artists, so that was a rare treat: a photographer took pics as artists excitedly tried on gear. Eventually, Jain arrived, clad in her trademark white-and-black-dress -- a look imitated by a superfan in the front row -- and delivered a powerful set with programmed beats that capture her roots in the sounds of Africa, where she grew up. For her single, "Come," she looped audience members -- including a girl who appeared to be about 10 years old -- singing the song's chorus, and then doubled it up, an inventive take on the solo programmer-performer trend. – Jeff Miller

2:35 p.m.: Garth Brooks and Rachael Ray met up briefly in the backstage catacombs of the Austin Convention Center between their two respective presentations at the conference. The two exchanged greetings, with Ray complimenting Brooks on how good he looks. “Being Mr. Yearwood has been good for me,” Brooks explained, referencing wife Trisha Yearwood. “I’m just trying to keep the gig!” he added. – Gary Graff

3 p.m.: After a three-night hometown residency in the comparatively dingy The Main earlier in the week, Spoon celebrated Friday’s release of its new album, Hot Thoughts, before one of this year’s biggest crowds at the state-of-the-art Radio Day Stage inside the Austin Convention Center. What was apparently supposed to be just a duo performance tuned into the full quintet as Spoon tore through new material such as “I Ain’t the One,” “Do I Have To Talk You Into It” and the title track. The group was clearly energized by the fresh surroundings, but the 40-minute show ended on an odd note, with two planned songs still on the set list and the group members clearly surprised by the abrupt finish. – Gary Graff

3:20 p.m.: During Garth Brooks' keynote speech with Amazon Music's Steve Boom, The Wall Street Journal's Hannah Karp asked the Amazon exec a fascinating question about Alexa, the voice-activated AI assistant. "Are you worried about kids growing up bossing around a woman?" she asked, which elicited a moment of silent surprise and then applause from the crowd. After brief pause, Boom offered, "I can't speak for all parents, but we teach our kids to say please and thank you." – Joe Lynch

3:57 p.m.: You probably never wondered if Garth Brooks loves Lady Gaga, but as it turns out, he does. "Outside of country music, the people who are grabbing me right now are Gaga… Katy Perry… and some of the most talented cats we've seen since Michael Jackson are Beyonce and Bruno Mars," he gushed during his SXSW keynote. – Joe Lynch

5:34 p.m.: Rising rapper Kyle may have worn a Dallas T-shirt to an Austin concert (tsk tsk), but his hype man made up for it with a sick Star Trek III shirt -- and no, we’re not talking Star Trek Beyond, he was rocking a shirt from the vintage William Shatner/Leonard Nimoy movies. With choreographed dancing and sly banter, Kyle's live show was impossibly fun… almost dangerously so. For instance, at the end of his set, the dude literally crowdsurfed -- as in, he placed a surfboard atop the audience, asked them to hold it steady and then delivered his breakthrough hit "I Spy" standing atop the surfboard without falling off. Absolutely bonkers. – Joe Lynch

6:11 p.m.: Minneapolis rapper Lizzo, whose badass bravado is imposing, inviting and makes her seems like the coolest person in any room, knocked out Fader Fort with "Phone" and then explained why her touring entourage is all female: "I roll with a crew of women. We didn't plan it but it just happened that way because we the shit." – Joe Lynch

7 p.m.: Lady Antebellum was back at it on Friday night, playing an intimate session for Spotify inside the Austin City Limits complex. Following Thursday night’s looser CMA Songwriters Series show, the trio and its full band offered more material from its forthcoming Heart Break album, which is due out June 9, including the horn-assisted single “You Look Good,” “Somebody Else’s Heart,” “This City,” the torchy “Hurt” and “Army,” while Charles Kelley confessed a semi-guilty fondness for Notebook -- which had bandmates Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood rolling their eyes. – Gary Graff

8:08 p.m.: “Get ready for a very long evening,” Richard Barone told the crowd in the Driskill Hotel’s Victorian Room, and he was not kidding. His Sorrows & Promises: Greenwich Village in the 1960s, a grand conceptual show paying tribute to the birth of the singer-songwriter movement and its heroes, lasted five hours with a couple of dozen artists trouping on and offstage for their homages. Barone himself got things off to a strong start with Phil Ochs’ “When I’m Gone,” while Pegi Young was a special guest for Fred Neils’ The Other Side of the Street” and Robyn Hitchcock played the lengthy original version of Bob Dylan’s “Chimes Of Freedom” (“If you get bored I’ll still be playing it when you get back,” he quipped) and the Velvet Underground’s “I’ll Be Your Mirror.” There were plenty of veterans such as Jesse Colin Young and Jeffrey Gaines, but the likes of Young Mister (strong takes on Paul Simon’s “Kathy’s Song” and Leonard Cohen’s “So Long, Marianne") and the Accidentals (Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade Of Winter”) proved the music’s enduring relevance to subsequent generations. – Gary Graff

8:13 p.m.: After bringing his adorable pup Indit onstage at the Fader Fort for his afternoon soundcheck, D.R.A.M. (sans dog, sadly) closed out Day 3 of the Fader Fort's expertly curated lineup on Friday evening. While "Broccoli" obviously got the biggest crowd response, it was "Cha Cha" -- his breakthrough hit that Drake interpolated for "Hotline Bling" -- that was most fascinating. On SoundCloud, it's a Super Mario-sampling, synth-heavy lo-fi track; but on stage, with a live band backing him, D.R.A.M. turned it into a soulful ode during the verses and an edgy rocker on the chorus. Genre? D.R.A.M. don't need no stinking genre. – Joe Lynch

8:36 p.m.: If nerdy '90s-ish alt-rock comes back in the way that flannel shirts have, expect Partybaby to lead the pack -- the songs the band played in their set at Brazos Hall (opening for Weezer, naturally) have the longing sense of fun and melody that gave Superdrag, Nada Surf, and, well, Weezer their biggest hits back in the day. – Jeff Miller

9:55 p.m.: For the final song of her Apple Music showcase on Friday night, Lana Del Rey announced, "We’ve got one more -- a new song that just came out," then played a flawless version of “Love." And that was it: No encore, despite the crowd chanting “One more song!” until the house lights came up. And even then, nobody seemed disappointed. – Jem Aswad

10:10 p.m.: At every SXSW there’s the show that could be the “I saw them play for 30 people at South-By in [insert year] before anyone knew who they were,” and this year’s just might be Saro. The young L.A.-based artist is so damn dreamy-looking that he could be a star without making a sound but his music is solid, suggesting a more pop-leaning Weeknd with R&B-inflected vocals, heavy on electronics and unafraid to branch into trippier territory on remixes (like the version of “Test” on his SoundCloud page). And while he probably didn’t intend it as media catnip, it doesn’t hurt that his moniker comes from a Smiths lyric (“I’m sorrow’s native son,” from “Pretty Girls Make Graves”). It’s early days but the potential is there. – Jem Aswad

10:43 p.m.: "Everyone get down," implored New Orleans-based soul-rocker Benjamin Booker to a packed, moderately apathetic crowd at Stubhub's showcase at Bangers. The crowd begrudgingly complied, cracking worn-out knees to get into squat position, and then magic happened: as Booker and his band launched into the final moments of "Violent Shiver," the crowd erupted into a jumping, celebratory dance party, shaking off the too-cool-for-school South By cobwebs and getting an audience to react, for once, for real. – Jeff Miller

11:00 p.m.: Just 12 hours after announcing he was playing a SXSW showcase that would be free for Austin locals, Garth Brooks treated the Austin community to an even more exclusive concert when he took the stage at the boot-scootin' honky-tonk Broken Spoke a few miles outside of downtown Austin. Billed as "the last of the true Texas dance halls" by its management, the Broken Spoke seems like the kind of Texas joint that hasn't changed in decades: We're talking a frayed, church basement-esque ceiling, a trough as a urinal, and neon signs as the closest thing to modern technology on the inside. While Austin is the hippie enclave of Texas, the Broken Spoke is the Texas enclave of Austin, full of cross-generational couples two-stepping, drinking beer and chowing on chicken-fried steak. In the midst of Western swing bandleader Billy Mata's Friday night set, the dancefloor cleared for a surprise 45-minute acoustic set from Garth Brooks. (So yes, the best-selling solo artist in U.S. history served as the relief performer for a local cat.)

Given the venue, the St. Patrick's Day holiday and the sea of cell phones trained on him, there was really only one song Garth could open with: "Friends In Low Places." The country classic elicited a high-decibel sing-along from the ecstatic, practically teary-eyed crowd, while James White -- who started Broken Spoke in the '60s and has been running it ever since – stood side stage in a sequined cowboy suit, all smiles, as Brooks sang.  – Joe Lynch

11:33 p.m.: For a man who can easily claim to be the greatest country performer of our lifetime, Brooks sure likes to mess with the formula of success. "I've learned it's never a good idea to end [a set] on a slow song -- except this one" he told the crowd before performing his final pre-encore song, the iconic tearjerker "The Dance." Barely one line of the song left his lips before a wall of cell phones rose up to heavens (or in this case, the low-hanging Broken Spoke panel ceiling) to capture the moment. – Joe Lynch

12:08 p.m.: The tension in the long line at Brazos Hall for Weezer was palpable. "We've been here two hours," say the badged couple at the front, before they share a photo taken by a friend in the allegedly at-capacity venue, showing tons of open space. Of course, local law's capped the room and there's little one can do: a one-in-one-out policy is established, meaning many people -- this writer included -- only heard small segments of "Beverly Hills" and "The Sweater Song" as the doors to the hall opened briefly. The show's popularity shouldn't have been a surprise: in a year without the major headliners of SXSW's past, Weezer are certainly at the top of the rock heap in terms of visibility; Ryan Adams' last-minute cancelation also surely sent some fans towards Brazos rather than elsewhere in Austin. "Lines are part of the South By experience," a bouncer reminded us; it's too bad that tonight (but not many other times this year), he was right. – Jeff Miller

1:20 a.m.: Known for his sartorial splendor -- including a hand-bedazzled suit he work at Thursday’s Luck Reunion festival -- Nashville Americana rocker Aaron Lee Tasjan didn’t disappoint during his closing set at the New West Records showcase in Cooper’s BBQ. This time out he sported a suit, neckerchief and broad-rimmed white hat, accented by a white, wide-rimmed hat. “How’s y’all’s South By going?” Tasjan asked the crowd. “I hope you all get signed. I hope you get your lawyer -- maybe get the lawyer first and then get signed.” – Gary Graff 


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