Friday, December 17, 2010
Last night marked the beginning of the epic nine show (in six nights) stand for Garth Brooks at the Bridgestone Arena. It started as a one-off benefit to raise money for victims of the million-year flood that Nashville endured earlier this summer, but when the tickets sold out in minutes, they eventually ended up with nine uber-sold-out shows and apparently millions of dollars to donate. Way to go Garth. Coming out of retirement to help out is a pretty cool move. I did my part by being the first to respond to a Craigslist ad for free tickets. Us Kemps have always been a philanthropic bunch, always willing to rescue unwanted, unused, and un-charged-for tickets.
I got to a seat in the middle of the opening set from some singer songwriter chick. I thought it was supposed to be Trisha Yearwood. Shows how much I know. Either way, it was a boring set from a boring country mare. She was cute, from a hundred yards away, but she just seemed to lack any kind of energy or stage presence. Lucky for me, she only played for about a half hour. Long enough for me to have a pretty heated debate with an elderly arena usher and have to find a new seat.
When Garth finally came out, the place erupted into an arm waving Wrangler fest in response to the "Hello Music City!" greeting. The entire arena was sold out, even behind the stage, and the crowd was super pumped to see their favorite hits that were, until recently, uncertain to ever see the stage again. He started off with my two favorite numbers, "Rodeo" and "Papa Loved Mama", which got me out of my "I hope this isn't a hokey waste of time" state and into a "this is gonna be awesome" groove. Even though there were a few opening night bugs in the sound, and the lap steel seemed to be coming from a Stratocaster, songs like "Two of a Kind", "Shameless", and the acoustic "Unanswered Prayers" were truly monumental. Another big moment was the version of "We Shall Be Free", complete with a collage of photos from the aforementioned flood. You could tell that Garth was back in his element, like he had never left, especially when he threw his head back and yelled "Man, I've missed you guys!"
Now, with this being an historical marquee event in Nashville, everyone knew that the possibilities of huge guest appearances were there. The only question was, who would it be? Resident Aussie country star Keith Urban? Maybe the habitual show crasher John Hiatt? Sadly and fortunately, respectively, no. This being the first night, we settled for a couple songs from Steve Wariner and a suite from Mrs. Brooks herself, Trisha Yearwood that included "She's In Love With The Boy". I guess it was cool, whatever. I was glad to see her leave. I can only assume that once Garth settles into the groove, he will bring the star power.
At long last, he dove into "Friends In Low Places", the penultimate 90's country hit/crowd pleaser. I won't lie, it was freakin' great, as was the set closer, "The Dance". I did however leave before the encore which turned out to be "Ain't Goin' Down Till The Sun Comes Up". I was slightly sorry to miss that one but I feel like I got my money's worth and it was worth it to beat the traffic, both outgoing and incoming for the second show of the night.
Not ever having been a huge fan of Garth's, I still enjoyed having the chance to see him live, complete with headset mic and starched button down. He is indeed a great showman. It was also great to hear him proclaim "This night is about laughter and raisin' hell!" I was especially content to have gotten to see the first show of this run. I can only assume that the inevitable law of diminishing returns will take affect and the pure emotion felt on this night will fade. Sure he will still put on a great show, but there's no substitute for the feeling you get when you play for 20 thousand for the first time in a dozen or so years, even if they are still wearing the exact same huge belt buckles and boots they were wearing to Hillsboro Middle School all those years ago. Hopefully, two guitars will get smashed together at some point, maybe when Hiatt finds his way onstage.