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Saturday, June 22, 2024
The Observer

Garth Brooks: One sweet cat

Garth Brooks performing at Notre Dame Stadium last Friday.
Garth Brooks performing for fans at Notre Dame Stadium Saturday night.

Music holds the power to take us out of our time and place and make us feel something. The best music, in my opinion, feels like home. Our favorite songs become a place we can escape to or turn to remind us of a memory or place in our life.

Musicians have a special talent for making people feel what they are feeling. My favorite artists have always been the ones who have the ability to make me forget about reality for a minute just by making some sound waves.

I would not self-identify as a country music fan, but I do have a strong appreciation for it. The storytelling aspect of country music holds a strong appeal to me. I also grew up with country music flowing out of the open windows of my dad’s truck, so there’s naturally a nostalgic soft spot for it in my heart.

I had the chance to meet Garth Brooks at a press conference before his stadium concert this weekend, and I was blown away by his kindness and humility. Any Brooks fan — or even just someone who has heard his name — knows that he has a reputation for being an even better person than he is a musician.

During my one-on-one interview with him, my first question for him was: “What music is inspiring you these days?”

This question was inspired by my experience a few weeks ago at Lorde’s concert in Chicago. As I sat in the gorgeous Chicago theater before the concert started, I made a concerted effort to take note of every detail — the screaming faces carved into the light sconces, the outfits fellow fans chose for the evening and especially the music Lorde had selected to play out of the speakers as her fans trickled into the theater.

Music is such a personal experience. When I listen to someone’s music, it feels like they are giving me a window into their soul. I always feel more connected to other people once I know what kind of music brings them comfort, what they listen to to lose themselves in or even just what song they have on repeat for the summer. So, what better way to get to know an artist better than to know what music they listen to?

So, back to Garth.

His response to my question caught me by surprise. What music was inspiring him? Ed Sheeran and Jon Batiste! He talked about how he admired Sheeran’s skill on guitar and Batiste’s humility, two things that Brooks is certainly not short on.

Then, we chatted for a few minutes about my Minnesota accent, the challenges of learning to play guitar and his favorite Billy Joel songs (“Piano Man” and “Only the Good Die Young”). I left the seventh floor of Corbett even more excited for the concert the next night.

Everyone I told I had a ticket for the Garth Brooks concert gave me the same reply: “I saw him a few years ago! That was the best concert I have ever been to.” That’s a lot of hype that Brooks had to live up to.

And live up to it, he did.

What is it that makes a concert “good?” Obviously, the performer needs to have some musical talent. But what makes a concert truly “great” is when the passion of the artist collides with lived experiences of the audience. Concerts are all about taking a personal connection with music and making it a collective experience.

Even for someone who had, admittedly, been unable to name one of Brooks’ songs when asked a week ago, this concert did all of these things.

By far, my favorite parts of the concert were the moments with just Brooks and his guitar on stage, engaging directly with his fans. Stripped down to his roots, in these moments I could see Brooks’ pure love for music — and his job — shine through.

It’s so special to see how songs can intertwine into the lives of such a large group of people. The entire stadium was singing so loudly that I’m sure people in Michigan could hear. The magic of this special relationship was not lost on Brooks, who after nearly every song yelled with excitement about how beautiful the night was.

Multiple times, Brooks would set his guitar down on the stage, get almost all the way to the exit, only to come sprinting back for “just one more.”

One of the most heartwarming moments came during what he called the “cleaning house” part of the show, in which he goes around the audience to play song requests written on fan’s posters. One sign was from a woman who had been to a whole slew of concerts without hearing Brooks perform “A New Way To Fly.”

In his classic fashion, Brooks brought her on stage, asked the stadium to light up their phone’s flashlights and he serenaded her. I could see in her misty eyes that her new favorite memory was forming on that stage.

Thank you, Mr. Brooks, for not only giving a stadium full of people a night of great music, but for caring so much about your fans. I will definitely be taking you up on your recommendation to learn some of your songs on guitar, but, unlike you claimed, I am not sure they will be easier for me than “Cherry Wine” has been.