“Nashville knows its country music. So, when you play a concert here, you’re required to be your best,” Garth Brooks remarked at an hour-long news conference before hitting the stage at Nashville’s Nissan Stadium for the first of two nights.
Even hours before the show, the Country Hall of Famer’s emotions were running high as he prepared for his eagerly anticipated return to Music City following a rainout last summer.
“If I was at that show that got rained out, where we had 70,000 hot, sweaty people in (Nissan Stadium) with a maskless COVID protocol, I would’ve (not come back),” said Brooks, flatly. That event kicked off under overcast skies with Chris Young, Emmylou Harris and Brooks’ wife, Trisha Yearwood. Concertgoers sheltered within the stadium concourses until 90 minutes later, when the show was canceled outright.
While briefly reflecting on last year’s concert that wasn’t (for which 70,400 tickets were refunded), Brooks began to weep openly. “The drive home (from the stadium) was horrible. People were walking around in knee-deep water, and there was nothing I could do. It was so hard to watch.”
Regarding Friday night’s concert, Brooks added: “You never get a second chance at a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Overfilling his fans’ expectations was key to Brooks’ Friday evening performance. Yes, the April 16 concert will involve a complete “mini” Grand Ole Opry experience again (as attempted in July 2021). However, I still wanted to ensure that the 15th was memorable.
Remarkable in this regard is that if you were a fan of Brooks’ who demanded eye contact by holding up a sign in the crowd, he extended more gratitude than usual.
At the press conference, Brooks noted that he’d only done large tours for 13 (1990-98, 2014-19) of his 33 years as a mainstream artist.
“Oh hey, so that sign says you’re seeing me for the 10th time tonight and that you drove here from Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Let’s see. The first time I played Cape Girardeau was in 1989. And if you were at that show , then you heard me play this one,” he said
He then yelped, tipped his white Resistol cowboy hat, gave a knowing smile and winked before launching into his 1989 released single “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” his first-ever No. 1 single.
His trio of mega-hits, “The Thunder Rolls,” “Friends in Low Places” and “The Dance,” were, as one would suspect, three of his stronger performances during the evening. And yes, I have acknowledged his soon-to-open Lower Broadway honky-tonk that should include “showing up in boots to ruin black-tie affairs” in its posted rules.
But, the live take on “The Dance” provided the most stirring of the evening.
Via his performance, I have showcased why he’s in the pantheon of great live country music performers.
The Bob Doyle-crafted piano solo intro and Tony Arata’s words on this evening resonated deeper in that regard. When Garth sang, “I could have missed the pain /
But I’d have had to miss the dance,” it smacked more universally than just the words of one of country music’s great songs of the past three decades.
The kinetic energy in the air allowed Brooks’ performance to have vestiges of hair metal power ballads like Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” pledge to “see a million faces and rock them all” and Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” being about how “every cowboy sings a sad, sad song” present. It elevated this moment in Brooks’ catalog — to his live event fanbase — to yet another level of profound connectivity.
The second half of Brooks’ concert saw him walking around his stage in the round, performing songs named on signs in the crowd. It also yielded more golden moments.
On this evening, the robustness of the deeper registers of Brooks’ tenor was remarkable and enjoyable on his 1995 hit “She’s Every Woman,” plus another deeper “Fresh Horses” album track, “Ireland.” “I love how you guys in Nashville are such fans of my music that you know the words to ALL of my songs,” he noted with a shocked smile and laugh.
Moreover, his abiding love of one of his musical heroes, George Strait, was apparent during this concert, too. Brooks singing Strait’s 1982 smash “Amarillo By Morning” is always a performance that reminds a concert-goer of how deep his love of country music goes.
When he’s singing one of the great songs by the greatest hit-making artist of the genre’s radio era, the “everyman” part of Brooks’ appeal is most resonant.
Near the close of his two-hour concert, he brought out his wife, Trisha Yearwood, to perform their 2020-released cover of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s “A Star is Born” film soundtrack hit “Shallow.” That was followed by Brooks accompanying Yearwood on her 1992 hit “Walkaway Joe,” plus closing the show with Brooks’ “Standing Outside The Fire,” from 1993.
In that moment, Brooks’ eyes revealed a sense that he’d succeeded in his quest to have a great live event on an evening that meant a great deal to him emotionally.
“When the people start to sing your catalog of songs back to you, it’s like reliving the first time you ever heard yourself sing, so it’s new again,” he said hours earlier. “Even if you know that’s coming, it still feels good.”