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For third show in two years, Diana Ross comes out to Austin and shouts out to teen fan

Introducing the song "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)," her first hit single after leaving the Supremes in 1970, pop music icon Diana Ross took a few minutes to talk to the crowd on Saturday at Germania Insurance Amphitheater. Noting that this was just the third show she's played in past two years, Ross expressed gratitude that the pandemic has eased enough to make such concerts possible.

And then she let her guard down a bit with what felt like a straight-from-the-heart confession. "It doesn't take very much to make me happy," said Ross, who turned 78 last week. She explained that during the pandemic, she'd been living in "a tiny room" with her daughter in Southern California. The experience helped her focus on the things that are most important to her.

It was a fitting story to tell at a concert that capped a day-long fundraiser for the Austin Child Guidance Center, which "provides accessible, high quality mental health services to children and their families to empower them to thrive in childhood and beyond," per the organization's website. Local artists Jordan Matthew Young and Grace Sorensen opened for Ross.

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Attendance was light given the venue size; that was perhaps by design, as the center had planned to use other parts of the racetrack facilities for other events earlier in the day (though a family-fest component was canceled). Ross' handful of Austin appearances over the past decade have been at ACL Live and Bass Concert Hall, venues significantly smaller than Germania Insurance Amphitheater's 14,000 capacity.

The few thousand who attended Saturday's concert would've been enough to fill those other halls. The back half of the amphitheater was mostly empty, but that wasn't such a bad thing. The amphitheater's grounds were easy to navigate, and attendees could space out a bit in the section immediately beyond the mostly-occupied pit seats.

After Ross's eight-piece backing band laid down a funky groove to set the tone just past 9 p.m., Ross waltzed onstage in a brilliant blue dress and opened with her 1980 hit "I'm Coming Out." Fashion was a key part of the show: Ross left the stage briefly a couple of times to change into a yellow dress, followed by sparkling silver and white attire.

Diana Ross, shown here at ACL Live in 2011, performed Saturday at Germania Insurance Amphitheater as part of a benefit for the Austin Child Guidance Center.

She played for about 80 minutes, unleashing a parade of hits that only an artist with one of the greatest catalogs of singles in popular music history could pull off. A string of 1960s Supremes smashes came early, as Ross and her band delivered "My World Is Empty Without You," "Baby Love,"  "Stop! In the Name of Love," " Come See About Me," "You Can't Hurry Love" and "Love Child" in quick succession. Those tunes kept the crowd standing and dancing, with plenty of phones raised to capture a sliver of the music.

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Ross tapped into her solo career for the mid-set highlight "Upside Down," an instantly catchy tune that topped the charts in 1980 and gave the band a chance to show off funk grooves. A medley of "Love Hangover" and "Ease on Down the Road" (from "The Wiz") followed as Ross eased her way toward 1970s signature tunes "Do You Know Where You're Going To (Theme From "Mahogany")" and the triumphant "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."

A somewhat surprising choice to close the main set was "I Will Survive," certainly a universally known song but one made famous by Gloria Gaynor in 1978. (Ross recorded the song on her 1995 album "Take Me Higher.") Ross returned for an encore, singing the title track of her 2021 album "Thank You" — her first in 15 years. More from that album would have been welcome; Ross spoke proudly of the track "Beautiful Love" but didn't sing it.

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Ross also took a moment near the end of the show to sign a poster for 14-year-old Louie Ranieri, a lifelong fan from Rhode Island who flew to Austin with his mother to attend the show. A video posted on TikTok of Ranieri being brought to tears when his mother told him they were going to the concert went viral, racking up almost 500,000 likes as of Sunday morning.