At best I’m only a moderate fan of country music. I’d heard Brooks gave a great concert performance, but nothing prepared me for the entertainment atom bomb of Brooks’ live show. The man transcends any musical genre and is a phenomenon unto himself.
Brooks had two opening acts, Mitch Rossell and Karyn Rochelle. Singer-songwriter Rossell said his gig before that was playing in airports for tips. Rochelle had a sweet voice and is an extremely talented songwriter. But the audience was there to see Garth, who strutted out in a black cowboy hat and promised to play “all the old stuff.” And he did. He did sing some newer material, but continually wowed the audience with his greatest hits package, along with some album deep cuts that kept the entire US Bank Arena on its feet, screaming and applauding, for two plus hours.
Garth began with his massive hit Rodeo, followed by Two of a Kind, Workin' on a Full House, and The Beaches of Cheyenne accompanied by some great beach video. He also did versions of The River, a very fun Two Pina Coladas, the tongue-in-cheek Papa Loved Mama, and a rockin’ Ain't Goin' Down ('Til the Sun Comes Up). Additional songs included Unanswered Prayers, The Thunder Rolls, and We Shall Be Free. He knew what the crowd wanted and gave it to them, with sugar on top.
I’ve never seen a closer bond between performer and audience. The only other performers who can compare are Elvis and Bruce Springsteen. Elvis was too shy to be that close and it’s not really Springsteen’s personality. But Brooks embraced his fans, addressing the audience personally, calling out signs and commenting directly to audience members. At one point, he would gesture to various sections of the crowd and they would cheer as if their home team had just won the Super Bowl. “I thank God that this is my gig!” he cried to the heavens.
Mid-concert Brooks was joined on stage by his wife, country star Trisha Yearwood. They sang a duet and she did several solo songs while Brooks no doubt collapsed on a couch somewhere. Brooks and Yearwood have a wonderful stage presence together, alluding to a deep love and partnership with no rivalry. If a competition exists, the audience certainly couldn’t tell.
Near the end of the show, Brooks cemented himself forever in my book as a class act. Talking to a woman and her mother near the front of the stage, Garth asked them about their sign saying the older daughter had cancer and attendance at the concert was her way of thanking her mother for helping her through. He asked her how the treatment was going and how she was doing. He wished her well and dedicated a song to her. Then Brooks asked a stagehand to bring him a Garth Brooks breast cancer baseball cap with a pink ribbon on it. Taking the hat in his hand, he drew it back to toss to the mother and daughter. Smiling at the last minute, he instead ripped off the cowboy hat he had been wearing all night, tossed it to the daughter, then flipped the baseball cap onto his head. He wished her well and went into the next song. No one in the arena auditorium had a dry eye after that. Mr. Brooks, you are my hero.
When the band took a break, Brooks read song requests off audience signs and played them on his guitar—not only his own deep cuts, but he was pleased to do a version of Don MacLean’s Starry, Starry Night as well.
When the band came back, Brooks finished with some of his most famous songs, including The Dance (in my opinion one of the finest songs ever written), and of course I’ve Got Friends in Low Places, complete with the rare naughty fourth verse.
Brooks spent over two hours jumping, laughing, singing, playing and engaging the audience like they were friends in his living room over for a jam session. For his last number, he playfully crawled over the stage to his guitar and jammed a fantastic rendition of another Don MacLean song, American Pie. The crowd shouted the lyrics with him.
The Brooks show was in my top three concerts of all time, and with perspective may end up being my favorite ever. I’ve never seen artist, band and audience in such perfect sync. This was my first Garth Brooks concert. Now I can’t wait until the next one. The man left nothing on the stage, and I think we both left exhausted.
Rating: ****** out of 5 stars