SXSW 2018: 25 Best Country, Americana Shows We Saw

From eclectic sets by Devin Dawson and Caroline Rose to star-is-born turns by Billy Strings and Liz Brasher

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Keith Urban
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Keith Urban

"It'll be a little bit loose, it's Friday night," Keith Urban claimed at the beginning of his headlining set at Stubb's and, in a way, he was right. Fresh from his hour-long conversation at the Austin Convention Center, Urban was ready to tell jokes and jam, qualities that gave his 80-minute set – an unusually long time by SXSW show standards – the illusion of being off the cuff. Strip away Urban's easy charm, and his set was one that could've been at an arena: a precision-tuned parade of hits, all delivered with maximum muscle and drama. Urban fed off his close proximity to the crowd, telling sly jokes – he compared the VIP balcony seats to royalty, quipping, "It's like an episode of The Crown!" – and shifting the focus to his instrumental prowess. It's not simply that Urban spat out lively solos while jamming with his band – or with opening act Larkin Poe, who came aboard for a version of "Where the Blacktop Ends" – but he enlivened the quieter moments and succinct renditions of hits with bold, colorful fills and licks. In an intimate setting like this, it focused the attention where it matters most: on the elements that motivate the music. S.T.E. 

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