For large portions of the 100 minutes he spent on stage, Garth Brooks stood at the edge of the flooring at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena Thursday with the toes of his boots literally hanging over the edge as front-row fans clutched at his cuffs.
It was a major show of trust — and of self-control — that Garth never wavered, never lost track of the lyrics or the chords while those strangers nabbed at just a touch of the superstar’s leg.
But that also made the encore of his set particularly surprising. Garth came barrelling up from a spot beneath the flooring and tripped at the top step, tumbling into view. The timing was amusing — his pratfall came during the ironically titled “Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til The Sun Comes Up).”
It was pretty much Garth’s only misstep as he led a loud, exuberant sell-out crowd through 20 familiar titles he referenced as “the old stuff.” Famously retired from the large stage, Garth had predicted that after three songs, his voice would go hoarse. There were moments around the eighth or ninth number when he clearly had lost some of his power, but there was still an impressive amount left in the tank as he pushed through material that requires an enormous amount of volume.
It was the first of nine concerts Garth is performing in Music City this month to raise money for flood relief, aiding victims of the devastating May disaster who still haven’t quite been able to fully rebuild their lives. Tickets raised $3.5 million, and everyone working the show — from his 16 backing musicians to the lighting crew to the Bridgestone employees — donated their time for free. Thus, shows that should have cost more than $3 million to produce, according to Garth, only required an outlay of approximately $300,000. The situation brought “nothing but the very best out of people,” he enthused.
Coming to prominence in the early 1990s, a golden era for country music, Garth had a real eye for songs with dramatic messages and big, sing-along choruses. Those songs were on display — “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old),” “The Dance,” “Unanswered Prayers,” “The Thunder Rolls” and “Two Of A Kind, Working On A Full House,” just for starters — and the audience chimed in word for word, note for note, underscoring just how well the music has worn after as much as two decades.
There were a couple of extra appearances. Trisha Yearwood, who celebrated her fifth wedding anniversary with Garth just six days prior, was an expected participant, locking voices with her husband on “In Another’s Eyes,” doing a solo turn on “She’s In Love With The Boy” and sticking around to back him on “More Than A Memory.” Steve Wariner was an unannounced addition, contributing harmonies and scat singing to “Longneck Bottle,” lofting his own “Some Fools Never Learn” and adding guitar to “Callin’ Baton Rouge.”
By the end of the concert, his sweat-drenched shirt gave visual confirmation of just how much Garth expended for his flood-relief mission. But that was just the first show. He was set to do a second on Thursday, and he’ll total nine by the time it all comes to a halt next Wednesday.
It’s all an example of one of country’s icons giving back to the city that launched him to stardom. Garth and Trisha may reside in Oklahoma, but it was in Nashville that he cut all those songs with such long-lasting value. When he saw footage of familiar landmarks such as the Grand Ole Opry House or Interstate 24 drowning in makeshift rivers during the May floods, he simply had to find a way to help.
The community is, he said, “the greatest big-city/small-town combination you can get.” If his concerts do nothing else, the biggest goal is to “make sure that everybody knows Nashville is up and running again.”
For nine shows, so is Garth Brooks.