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Garth Brooks Follows Heart And Gut Into Record-Breaking Tour

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Garth Brooks recently set attendance records at one local venue for six shows. He says that he's happy to be back on the road and that he's optimistic about music's future. KMUW's Jedd Beaudoin caught up with Brooks and wife Trisha Yearwood backstage hours before opening night in Wichita.

 
Last week Garth Brooks returned to Wichita for the first time in nearly 20 years. He’d sold out six shows at the Intrust Bank Arena almost as soon as the tickets had gone on sale. But that’s the kind of business the tour has done in each of its stops since launching in mid-2014.

And maybe that’s no surprise: It’s the first time Brooks has toured in over 12 years. He even quietly released a new album, Man Against Machine, in late 2014. Not that you’d know. Brooks typically plays one or two songs per show from the album, leaving plenty of room for what he calls “the old stuff.” He says that making a record for the first time in 13 years wasn’t easy.

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“This one we cut probably cut nine things with my name on it and using three because I just didn’t trust my pen yet," he says. "So now the new piece that’s coming out—we’ll start releasing singles off of it here any day—is a lot more Garth stuff because I’ve had a year to work with the pen. I could be wrong. But we’ll see the confidence is coming back.”

Confidence was in no short supply as Brooks took the stage last Thursday evening for a hit-laden show that included “Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til The Sun Comes Up),” “Callin’ Baton Rouge” and, naturally, “Friends In Low Places,” as well as the always atmospheric “The Thunder Rolls.” Wearing a head mic that allowed him to roam the stage freely, Brooks made every use of the available space. Although the stage was a traditional in-the-round style, Brooks and band made every effort to play to all the seats in the house, making it possible to believe that first or second row wasn’t necessarily the prime place to be.

The fact that the show was light on new material is of little surprise, but Brooks remains optimistic that his new music will be able to connect with a larger audience. He’s effusive in his praise of singer Adele, who has kept her music off of streaming services and seen record buyers flock to stores in numbers not often seen over the last decade. But Brooks isn’t just worried about his own career. He points out that an industry that demands instant hits is putting some artists in peril and that the days of slowly building an audience are long gone.

“It used to be that an artist would get two or three albums to get a success,” he says. “That’s twelve singles. Now you get two or three singles. That’s all you get. It kills me because there’s guys out there where I go, ‘Holy crap! I love this guy!’ And then you don’t hear anything. It’s gone. Then you think, ‘Damn!’ So I’m thankful that we got to make our run when we did. We were in a much more forgiving time. And you got to explore. These new ones coming out they’ve got all my love and strength because they’re in a war and fight right from day one.”

Brooks has earned the respect of fellow musicians over the last quarter century of performing, and although he’s not able to articulate why, his wife, fellow country artist Trisha Yearwood, who has joined him on this current tour and performs several songs each evening, says it comes down to this:

“You have to respect somebody who has always followed their heart and their gut even when everybody around them is saying, ‘You can’t do that. That’s crazy,’ or, ‘Nobody does that,’” she says. “I hear people telling him, ‘No, that can’t be done’ almost every day. I’m just amazed that he gets up every morning with a smile on his face. He keeps following that code that he has, which I highly respect, and I think everybody does. And I think you can respect that no matter what kind of music you play.”

And as Brooks and Yearwood demonstrated on opening night in Wichita, with a stage set that owed more to Sammy Hagar-era Van Halen and vintage Def Leppard than peak-era George Jones or Merle Haggard, breaking and bending a few rules and giving the audience a little something to talk about at the end of the night may be the reason that Brooks continues to draw such large audiences wherever he plays.

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Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.

To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.