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Tonight starts an incredible month for king of country Garth Brooks. First, congratulations as wife Trisha Yearwood and he celebrate six years of marriage on Dec. 10. Then this weekend’s four solo concerts at Encore Theater in the Wynn mark the start of his third year of residency shows. It is the original contract’s halfway mark ending the second year, but Garth says emphatically that he wants to stay on for as long as the owner, hotel tycoon Steve Wynn, will have him there.
Garth, who turns 50 in February, rarely gives interviews since his “retirement” from touring on Oct. 26, 2000, to give him more time with his bride and three daughters. He said that he’d give up recording and performing until his youngest daughter Allie turned 18. As you will read below, May 2014 becomes a significant date for Garth and Trisha as they become empty nesters, and he reveals for the first time how that will probably put him back on the road.
Garth kept his promise of no touring, with just a scattering of shows for charity until the Las Vegas billionaire builder made him an unprecedented offer to star at the Wynn -- and threw in a private jet to clinch the deal so that Garth could fly back and forth between shows and never miss any of his daughters’ school and sports events.
Watching Garth perform at the Wynn is as intimate as if you were with him in the living room of his Oklahoma ranch outside Tulsa, and in advance of him flying here this weekend, that’s where he paced back and forth on the phone talking with me just before he went off to pick up Allie and drive her home from school.
Our conversation was warm and candid -- it had the same intimacy and sincerity of his Wynn shows.
Robin Leach: Congratulations are in order!
Garth Brooks: Mr. Wynn came to my last show to mark the two years and made a little speech. It was pretty sweet. He continues to be the same man he was when we signed the deal. I would hope he would be in favor and say the same about me. If he’s getting as good of a deal out of it as I am, then he’s very happy.
R.L.: As you start your third year, has it worked out exactly the way you wanted it to?
G.B.: I’ve got to tell you it’s worked out a lot better than I’d ever thought it’d be. Just me and the guitar. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but people just come in this wonderful spirit. They come to take the ride with you. They sit down, and they don’t have a clue what they’re getting ready to see, and the truth is I’m not sure I’ve got a clue of what they’re getting ready to see, either.
R.L.: Flying solo that way, is it like stepping off a cliff into a giant abyss?
G.B.: I’m laughing over that, so I will give you the quote. You’re flying by the seat of your pants; finally, it works in your favor to have a big ass. It’s fun, everybody has been very sweet, and they just let me take off, and they go with me.
R.L.: Do you really have little to no idea, when you walk out on that bare stage, how it’s going to go?
G.B.: Well, Robin, you’ve seen the show, and it’s about influences and my influences are not going to change. But the music within those influences very well can because I’ve been lucky enough to be influenced by people that were very diverse in their own ways. I mean take somebody as standard as [Merle] Haggard. You might peg him down to blue collar, but blue collar changed in the ’60s, the ’70s and the ’80s. The ’60s was about prison and recovering from young mistakes, ’70s was about love and finding that, and ’80s was about mortality with Haggard and stuff. So it follows the rules of life, and you’ve got all those songs to choose from since he is an influence of yours.
R.L.: You’ve often said, Garth -- and I don’t think anybody has driven it home so nicely and so well -- that songwriting is really the key to absolutely everything that an artist does, in every form of music.
G.B.: Yes, it’s the seed. It’s the difference between what makes an artist here for a while or here forever. Having that song sense, there is a thing called song sense in our business, that producers are responsible for, and I thank God every day for my producer Allen Reynolds. He’s got a great song sense of songs that are different from what you have recorded but will hopefully be around as long as you have a career.
R.L.: You don’t perform the same songs at every show? You choose to sing based on what you’re feeling from the audience, right?
G.B.: Yeah, and doing four shows in a weekend, the thought is the same way out on tour, what if one person comes to all four of these shows? If they’re not different, then this person is going to think that the show is insincere. Now there are things, Robin, that you have to cover, you don’t go to a Garth Brooks show and not hear ‘Friends in Low Places.’ You know, they’d break out the rope on that for you. So, there are things that you have to do, but how you present them and how they’re done is up to you, up to the crowd, up to the energy of the night.
I have really been blown away by the audiences at the Wynn. Knowing these two years, there’s been a major difference; one was price of a ticket. They started out at 125 bucks, which I thought was crazy, and then Mr. Wynn wanted to take them up to 225 bucks, which I thought was insane. I gotta tell you I notice no difference, whatsoever, in the crowds, none. If I closed my eyes, I couldn’t tell you what ticket price it was, and these people are pretty amazing.
The Wynn was built with the Encore Theater, and I’ve never played any place like it. It was built purely for sound. Any place I’ve played is built for hockey or basketball or football or something like that. So this building is unbelievable -- it can get so quiet in there, you can hear yourself think while you’re doing songs. And the night that the audience is singing with you all the time, it gets so loud you can’t even hear yourself sing. They are having a great time both ways, and that’s a wonderful, wonderful thing to have happen.
R.L.: Are you making any changes in the third year of shows? Is there anything that you would like to add or jettison?
G.B.: Yeah, I think that you’re always in discovery, and there are a lot more influences than I have time to admit to on this thing. But let me tell you a side story right quick. This year, Miss Yearwood’s mom battled cancer, and for the last 3 months of her life, Miss Yearwood decided that she would spend every minute with her mother. She even slept beside her bed on the floor for the last 3 months of her mother’s life. Her and her sister did it right.
During that time, though, it obviously prevented Miss Yearwood coming to Vegas, so when Miss Yearwood came back for her first show again, she looked at me, she goes, “Oh my God, I can’t believe how much this show has changed.” Well, for me, it didn’t seem like it changed at all. For her, though, who’s seen every show, it changed a lot. So, I think this thing is still now evolving and changing kind of without me knowing it -- and I like that. That speaks hopefully for the sincerity part because I can guarantee you this, Robin, nobody is happier to be in that room than I am.
R.L.: For somebody to say that after two year of shows is pretty revealing. Is this the halfway point for you, or where goes the future?
G.B.: No, it’s not halfway any longer because there’s no end date now! I talked to Mr. Wynn, if he’s all right with it, even let’s say the kids go off to college and we fire up the big, hopefully the monster tour back up, I’ve asked Mr. Wynn if he would be open to letting me come do weekends still -- just me and my guitar. I’ve gotta tell you, it really hones your guitar playing, your dialogue with the audience, your own vocals. It’s a constant final exam because it’s just you and a guitar up there. You got nowhere to hide, so it’s great for me. So I’ve asked to continue this relationship for as long as Mr. Wynn wants to. He said they can continue onward as long as we both want to do it!
R.L.: Does your heart pound when you walk onstage still to go face the audience not knowing what you might start to say or sing?
G.B.: Scared to death, and it’s odd that you mention this because my wife says, this was like a month ago, “Why do you get so nervous before you go out?” I said because I don’t know why these people show up, so when you don’t know why something happens, you’re scared to death that this time when you go up onstage, it’s not going to happen. Does that make any sense? So I kind of get to take the ride along with the people because I don’t even know what’s coming up next. It’s stupid and silly to say that, but at the same time, it’s really fun and dangerous.
R.L.: I don’t know anybody who has done this in show business before to this extent.
G.B.: That’s what Mr. Wynn got this thing for, though. The first, when I asked him, I said, “Can I ask you why?” And he said, “Because I’ve never seen anything like it before.” I’m not trying to sell the Wynn show, but with that said, I will tell you that you will not see this show anywhere else -- other than if you’re in my living room here. It’s just something that wouldn’t transfer anywhere else.
R.L.: You mentioned the tour possibly starting up again. When do the kids finally get out of your hair, even though it sounds like you don’t want them to?
G.B.: I don’t think you ever stop being a parent, but when we become empty nesters, well, my youngest graduates in May of 2014. So, we become empty nesters right around then, and who knows. Our business, as you know, this business is very fickle, so there might not be a hole for us. But if there is, I would love to tour again for the first time ever without guilt from being away from either your spouse or your children. Now my children are off doing their own thing, and my spouse is with me. You know we’re together on tour, so I think that would be all the fun things.
R.L.: If you resume touring again after May 2014, what about recording again? Garth, you have any hunger to get back in the studio and record?
G.B.: There’s always hunger to create because I believe that’s what I do. I believe that’s what I’m supposed to be doing. With that said, Robin, and I’ll try because, you know I’ll try not to get too far ahead of myself, the situation that music retail is in right now does not excite me. I love to create, at the same time you want what you’ve created to be viewed as a success, and right now I don’t see many successes out there -- simply because the way the system is set up, not because the music isn’t any good.
R.L.: But if your new music was released digitally through iTunes or Amazon or other similar methods of distribution, it could still be of significance, right?
G.B.: I’m not sure. I don’t think the system right now is set up for extraordinary significance. And I think the system does have something to do with that, people will misconstrue that statement as commercialism or marketing, but the truth is I don’t think we view music right now as something that is extraordinary, and I think a lot of that, the reason why we don’t, is it’s become too disposable. I think we owe it to music to take a break, to try and figure out how it’s treated after it’s released, and hopefully it will be more favorable by the time we are going back on tour -- if we do.
My exclusive conversation with the country king continues Tuesday, along with thoughts from seeing his show this weekend at the Wynn. It’s even more revealing as Garth admits that he’s thought of politics in his future and might be willing to become a leader to right the wrongs in our world!
He also explains why he passed on attending this year’s glittering CMA Awards to instead pick up hammers and nails with Trisha to help build homes in Haiti after the devastation there from an earthquake and hurricane. It’s an interview you mustn’t miss and one you will find only here.
Meantime, tickets are on sale for Garth’s next shows Jan. 5-7 and 27-28 and Feb. 17 and 18, with performances twice nightly at 7:30 and 10:30.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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