“I could do this all night!” Garth Brooks said, warmly, to the audience, about two hours into his first New York concert since his legendary 1997 blow out at Central Park.
Last night (July 8) the country icon kicked off the first of two nights at New York’s Yankee Stadium, reminding everyone that the Big Apple loves country music, and that they love Garth. Towards the end of the show, he mentioned that when he comes to NYC, he sometimes wonders if he’s “good enough.”
“And then I realize, you love me just as I am!” It was a message of acceptance that surfaced a few times through the night.
The show started at about 9:20 pm (there was no opening act) with Brooks’ lead guitarist Johnny Garcia, wearing an NYPD baseball cap, playing a Hendrixian “Star Spangled Banner,” as the the rest of the band filed on stage. They launched into “Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)” and the stadium went crazy as Brooks appeared on stage. For the next two hours, it seemed that everyone in the audience knew every word to every song, from every era.
“Rodeo” followed and then 1997’s “Two Pina Coladas,” a song that seemingly paved the way for Jimmy Buffett-style beach country music that is quite the norm these days (it pre-dated Kenny Chesney’s No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem by five years). The party was now in full gear. And the vibe of the audience was very much in that vein: Garth was back in the city, summer has just begun, and people were in a celebratory mood (even when it started raining).
And that mood stuck through most of the show, which featured mainly upbeat classics from Brooks’ hit-packed catalog. “That Summer,” “The Thunder Rolls,” of course “Friends in Low Places.” There was also a lovely interlude featuring Brooks’ wife, a superstar in her own right, Trisha Yearwood. She appeared on stage a few moments into their duet “In Another’s Eyes.” Then, Garth took a break, giving the spotlight to Ms. Yearwood, who rocked the crowd with a cover of the Everly Brothers’ and Linda Ronstadt’s classic, “When Will I Be Loved?” She then leveled the place with her classic ballad “How Do I Live.” During a particularly high note towards the end of the song, there was a bit of a funny moment when the audience tried to sing along with her. But some notes are attainable by very few singers, and Yearwood seemed to be the only one in the stadium who could hit it; it was a great reminder that she’s one of the great singers in any genre. That was followed by “She’s in Love with the Boy,” which saw Brooks, in the shadows, playing acoustic rhythm guitar, literally refusing to take the spotlight away from his wife.
He then returned to center stage for his classic cover of Billy Joel’s “Shameless,” which was the song that likely brought him to the attention of many New Yorkers, a generation ago. Around that time, he began elevating his concerts to arena rock spectacles,and that was certainly true last night – he stage had a huge runway that went around the floor of the stadium, and which he ran around several times throughout the night. But he also reminded everyone that he could entertain without any spectacle. Early in the show, he did a solo acoustic take on “The River,” and after the show’s final scheduled song, “Standing Outside the Fire,” he returned for a few solo numbers, “She’s Every Woman,” Bob Dylan’s “To Make You Feel My Love,” “Wrapped Up in You,” and finally, a second Billy Joel cover, “Piano Man.”
Earlier in the afternoon, I asked Garth if he would address the events of the past week in his show. “What’s gone on in America in the past few days,” he told me, “is the same thing that was going on in America down in Orlando, the same thing that went on in Paris. We’re all on the same planet together, so how we’ll address that is through the music. We’re going to do ‘People Loving People’ tonight, and watch what happens. It’s a new song that people won’t know as much as they know the old stuff, but watch the emotion that comes with it.”
The “new” song is on Brooks’ most recent album, 2014’s Man Against Machine, which isn’t so new anymore. And while that album may not have had the sales impact of his prior releases, he was right about the way the song was received. He introduced it by saying that it was “The most ‘Garth’ song we’ll play,” adding, “We’ve got to learn to love each other,” and that was much as he said; the song said the rest.
“People loving people,” he sang, along with a stadium filled with people seemingly doing just that. “That’s the enemy of all that’s evil.” Perhaps it’s an oversimplification of the world we live in, but it’s not inaccurate either. Later in the night, he said, “We need to embrace our differences and realize that they are our strengths!” That man walked it like he talked it: he leads a multi-cultural band, which includes white people, black people, a Latino, men and women, young and less-young, and he spoke, lovingly, about each member throughout the night. As he rocked a crowd of tens of thousands for over two hours, it was clear that the most recent song he played is the one that this era needs the most.