By Deseret News contributor: Erica Hansen
photos by Chris Samuels, Deseret News
Yes he sings all the old stuff.
Yes his energy still bounces off the Utah Jazz jerseys hanging high above the stage.
The Garth Brooks World Tour kicked off Thursday night and it really was the ultimate #TBT – Throwback Thursday – posting memories and old photos from times gone by.
But for any of us around who were around 17 years ago (last time Garth played Salt Lake City) and squarely on the Garth Brooks band wagon (and who wasn’t?) this world tour is a wonderful trip down memory lane.
But before the house lights went down inside the newly-named Vivint Smart Home Arena, Garth stepped on a small platform stage in a conference room deep in the bowels of the arena to chat with the press. He was humble, unassuming, wearing slouchy jeans, a Dr. Pepper t-shirt, tennis shoes and ball cap, carrying none of the pomp and circumstance a person must possess to command the attention of 20,000 of one’s closest friends. He was down-to-earth, nice even. He wanted to know reporter’s names, he greeted the photographers standing behind cameras and he got teary – a few times. He teared up when talking about his kids, the time a fan wore her dad’s old concert t-shirt to a show not long after losing him to cancer, and when talking about “The Queen” his wife, Trisha Yearwood, who also graced the stage Thursday night for a four-song set including one duet with Garth (who planted a marvelous kiss on her when she was finished.)
He began the press conference by saying the word for this tour is ‘grateful.’ “Grateful to be touring this late in my career, grateful to have the show selling like it is, and grateful to be on the road with the love of my life.”
And frankly, that gratitude oozed from his pores – every one of ’em.
Garth did not disappoint.
He’s a master of charm and audience connection. And, fundamentally, it’s because Garth has never forgotten his Tulsa Oklahoma roots. When a reporter noted that it seems Garth strives to keep ticket prices “affordable,” Garth was quick to respond. “Well that’s kind of you. But where I come from, $75 is a lot of money,” he said. “No one comes to the show alone, so you double that and folks are in it $150. Then they either bring their kids or have to get a babysitter, they’ve got to pay for parking, perhaps dinner first, maybe a beer at the show. It is not lost on me how hard and how expensive it is for people. And that they’re willing to do that for me, means the world to me and again, I’m grateful.”
And Garth’s understanding of his common-man, country-lovin’ audience is further illustrated when he says “Look, I’ve been to concerts where bands dump a bunch of new stuff on you,” he told the small gathering of reporters. “And you’re sitting there thinking ‘I love you, I’ll probably buy your stuff, but I want to hear the music I fell in love with. So we’re singing all the oldies.”
And Garth had plenty from which to choose: “Rodeo,” “Thunder Rolls,” “The Dance,” “Shameless,” “Calling Baton Rouge” and, it goes without saying “Friends in Low Places.”
Seventeen years later, the crowd remembered every song. They sang along with every word, but this time around they added selfies (lots of ’em). Lighters, of course, have been replaced by smart phone flashlight apps – making the 20,000 seat arena glow brightly enough to cast light on all those selfies.
He has traded in his trademark bold, color-blocked shirts for a simpler button down, but he still sports the black cowboy hat – except for the times he rips it off his head, throws his arms out wide and drinks in the joy of the crowd, as if in genuine disbelief that we came, we sang along and we loved it.
“When we went to Chicago we went from one show to 11,” he said at the press conference. “So we threw off the schedule so that we had flexibility and we went from 96 cities to 60. And how did we decide those? Simple: we chose the ones where we had the most fun. This is the fun place.”
And for that, Garth, we are grateful.
Garth Brooks has three more shows at Vivint Arena through Saturday.