Last night, Garth Brooks achieved a dream that he never thought was possible. The country superstar, who has sold out stadiums in record time for years, had never managed to play Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium. That was a deliberate choice by Brooks, who admitted he never felt worthy enough to play in the hall during an emotional press conference prior to the show.
“Got to step into ‘The House’ yesterday,” Brooks said, gazing at the Ryman through a window behind him, tears filling his eyes. “It’s a cool place, man. Don’t know if I deserve to be there, but it welcomed me.”
It’s hard to believe that a star as accomplished as Brooks can still feel so emotional over playing a show. But this was not just any concert, and not just any venue. The invite-only event was simulcasted to millions on his brand new SiriusXM station, “The Garth Channel.” This special event gave him the chance to both fulfill a dream and face a longtime fear. For years, he refused to ever visit the Ryman, seeing it as a place where only the greats deserved to be.
“I wouldn’t step foot in there,” he explained. “That’s where the legends live. I’ve been a member of the Opry for twenty five years, and every time they go to the Ryman, they ask me to play. I can’t. That’s where the serious ones play.”
For one night only, Brooks allowed himself to take the same stage as so many of his heroes. By doing so, he wanted to make sure he honored both his fans by playing his greatest hits, and the artists who influenced him through the years. Although he still puts artists like Haggard and Jones on a high pedestal, he credits his music alone for his own success.
“Nothing today – and nothing forever – is about the artist,” Brooks told Wide Open Country. “When I see a little ten year old kid come up to me, and I ask ‘What’s your favorite song,’ and he says “Unanswered Prayers,’ I think, ‘Wow, really?'”
His songs continue to have a huge impact on fans both young and old. But Brooks refrains from giving himself any pats on the back for making it happen. For him, it’s all about the songs.
“If it’s written well enough, I think it’s going to hit no matter what your age is,” Brooks explains. “I love to see the kids out there so young that they have to wear those big headphones, but are still singing every word to every song.”
Brooks’ ability to reach generation after generation was obvious with one look of the crowd gathered inside the Ryman. Middle aged fans who have been there since his early days were intertwined with teenagers and twenty-somethings who grew up listening to his music.
Regardless of age, every concertgoer took notice when Brooks suddenly strode on stage with guitar in hand. Earlier in the day, he had dropped hints about what classic country song he would play first. Would it be Merle Haggard? What about a George Jones classic? He remedied his uncertainty by playing a little bit of them all. He performed a medley of Cal Smith’s “Country Bumpkin,” George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” George Strait’s “Amarillo By Morning,” Merle Haggard’s “Today I Started Loving You Again,” Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” and Randy Travis’ “I Told You So” before settling on one final choice.
“I can’t believe I get to do this in this house,” Brooks said with a shaky voice before singing the first few lines of Keith Whitley’s “Don’t Close Your Eyes.”
The emotional performance drew a standing ovation from the crowd, the first of over a dozen that evening. When the curtain rose, revealing Brooks’ longtime backing band, the country star suddenly evolved into the powerful, entrancing figure that we all know and love.
By immediately going into his signature hit, “Friends in Low Places,” the concert became a true Garth concert. Massive singalongs, witty banter and flawless vocals reminded everyone in attendance why Brooks is one of the most influential artists in history.
The night was filled with all of Brooks’ greatest hits from throughout his career. He blended a perfect mix of party songs (“Two Pina Coladas”), reflective ballads (“The River,” “Unanswered Prayers”) to those tracks that can only be described as “Garth” (“The Thunder Rolls,” “That Summer.”) Midway through his set, Brooks brought out his wife Trisha Yearwood for “In Another’s Eyes” and her hit song “Walkaway Joe.” They also gave fans a teaser of Brooks’ still-in-progress album, set for release this fall. The harmony-filled duet “Whiskey and Wine” seemed to win over the crowd instantly (although Brooks admitted he was ‘scared to death’ to sing it), and is a promising look into what’s to come.
He finished things off with a sucker-punch of his high-energy hits “Papa Loved Mama” and “Callin’ Baton Rouge” before bringing both himself and the crowd to tears with “The Dance.” Normally, the track signals the end of the concert. However, Brooks soon returned to the stage for a jam-packed encore.
After playing his first career hit, “Much Too Young,” he took a tactic from his larger-scale world tour dates and played a few fan requests. After a few lines of “Anonymous,” he dedicated “In Lonesome Dove” to his daughter who was watching proudly from the audience.
Brooks shut things down with fiery renditions of “Longneck Bottle,” “Shameless” and “Standing Outside the Fire” before taking a bow with his bandmates. The loss of Brooks’ bassist, Mike Chapman, obviously weighed on his mind throughout the day. He honored his friend, who passed away earlier this year, by playing an acoustic guitar signed by Chapman throughout the show.
When the lights came up and the crowds poured out onto Nashville’s Lower Broadway, there was one word that echoed from the mouths of concertgoers – incredible. At the age of 54, with a career that’s spanned a quarter of a century, Brooks is still bringing his all to the stage – even if he sometimes still doesn’t believe its enough. His debut headlining show at the Ryman is one that both Brooks and concertgoers will likely use as a measurement for just how remarkable a live concert can be.
Although the day was filled with emotion, stress and fear for Brooks, he performed a show that could only be accomplished by a true legend more than worthy of standing on the Ryman stage.