SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, July 18, 2021 (Gephardt Daily) — Well, Utahns, I will tell you one thing, if Garth Brooks promises you he’s going to bring the party to Salt Lake City, believe him. I don’t remember having been to a bigger bash in the Beehive State, and many of us were ready to let down our hair and sing our hearts out after a rocky 2020.
“If you think by coming to the stadium, because you have a seat, I’m gonna let you rest… you’ve never been to a Garth show,” Brooks told reporters in a Friday press conference.
Salt Lake City was the second stop on his stadium tour, and Brooks and his band were the first single-act show to play Rice-Eccles Stadium since U2 played there in 2011. He was initially scheduled to have a support band, which was then scratched because of the heat; he told reporters he would start when everyone was in the stadium, at around 8 p.m. That in itself was quite a feat; some 50,000 concertgoers had to find their seats, but even though it was blisteringly hot and a little hectic, everyone managed to navigate the logistics successfully and with grace; we got to our seats a mere minute-and-a-half before Brooks took the stage.
Now, anyone who has been to a Garth show knows you do not spend a lot of time sitting down. He took the stage right at 9 p.m., meaning the first three or so songs, “All Day Long,” “Rodeo,” and “Two of a Kind, Working on a Full House,” were performed before the sun went down. As soon as it was dark, concert-goers held up their phones and lit the stadium up like thousands of bobbing fireflies set against the backdrop of the beautiful mountains of Salt Lake City.
It was a memorable moment.
It was emotional being back at a huge show like this one — the Salt Lake City performance was the fastest-selling stadium show in Ticketmaster history — 51,000 seats in 30 minutes — but there are numerous things about going to a Garth show that really take the experience to another level. He simply has a way of making the people in the very back row feel like they are down at the front and the people at the front feel like there was no place they would rather be.
It also genuinely seemed there was no place Brooks would rather be, giving the massive stadium venue the same intimate feel of one of his legendary dive bar performances, like the one he performed at The Westerner in Salt Lake City on Friday night. He didn’t leave the stage once during the two-hour show, and barely took a sip of water. (I noticed the same phenomenon during Paul McCartney’s three-hour show at Rio Tinto back in 2010. I suspect they both might be superhuman.)
Brooks was dripping with sweat by the end of the performance, but his voice and guitar playing were in great form all evening long. Throughout the night, he proved to be a consummate showman, a pro at the top of his game. He played directly to different areas of the stadium and encouraged the audience to sing every word. The atmosphere was positively electric; I particularly loved the back-to-back performances of “The River,” “The Thunder Rolls” and “Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up) in the middle of the show.
But there were endearing and downright emotional moments, like when Brooks took the time to create some truly lifelong memories for a number of adoring fans; dedicating a song to a couple in the front row who invited him to their wedding next month and grabbing and holding up a home-made sign that said “You’re the reason I play the guitar,” and telling the audience: “Well, this is true for me, too.”
He also assembled a totally show-stopping band. My husband, Jay Perry, a lifelong musician and recording artist, said the band was the musical equivalent of watching the Founding Fathers sign the Declaration of Independence.
Five out of the seven members (including Brooks himself) have been together since the beginning of his career; guitarist Ty England was his Oklahoma State University classmate; and the guy he calls “The Rookie” of the group, fiddle player Jimmy Mattingly, has been with him for 21 years. The band’s synergy was awe-inspiring; the stage, which is in the very middle of the audience, is huge, so they are often really far apart from each other physically, but they are tight as a drum. He also has two stunning backup singers, Vicki Hampton and Robert “Bob” Bailey, who also have been with him since the early ’90s. A true family; and you feel like part of that family for the night.
When I told friends I had the privilege of seeing Mr. Garth in concert and interviewing him, without exception, they had nothing but effusive praise; words that came up were passionate, authentic, humble, genuine, sweet and sincere. And truly, he is as nice in person as you would hope. But because he is so down to earth, and somewhat self-deprecating, the breadth of his talent is even more stunning when you see him live.
Case in point; after the final two songs, “Friends in Low Places” and “The Dance,” Brooks does a section of the show he calls “housekeeping,” in which he chooses song requests from signs held up by the audience. After performing ’90s hits “Ireland” and “In Lonesome Dove,” Brooks spots a sign that says “Rocket Man.” He clutches his guitar and makes a face that says something along the lines of “Well, dang, OK, I’ll give it a go…,” then pauses and launches into a flawless acoustic version of Elton John’s hit.
Brooks told reporters at the press conference Friday that he lamented not adding a second show in Salt Lake City, and he announced partway through the performance, seemingly spontaneously, that he would like to do another date at Rice-Eccles in 2022. If he does, do whatever you can to get tickets. I will never forget last night. As Brooks himself told Gephardt Daily: “To me, music is the great unifier, it’s the great healer. For us, separation is the last thing we want. It’s united, right? Even in the Pledge of Allegiance it says indivisible, and right now we’re about as divided as we can be, so I’m all for the healing, and I think music is a great way to do that.”
For more information about Brooks’ tour, click here.