The Garth Brooks Concert- Prudential Center, December 3, 2017
When the last child cries for a crust of bread
When the last man dies for just words that he said,
When there's shelter over the poorest head,
We shall be free.
My husband, Tom, and I stood on the platform at the Menlo Park train station, wearing our black cowboy hats and jeans, waiting for the train to the Prudential Center in Newark for our third Garth Brooks concert.
“You guys going to the concert?” asked an attractive blonde woman wearing tooled cowboy boots. We were all attired properly, even for Jerseyans, for The Concert.
The Concert. There was only one concert on Sunday night, December 3, capping a three night appearance of the astonishing Garth Brooks, his first time in the Garden State in 25 years. A few years ago, Tom and I traveled up to Boston for our first Garth concert and were awed by every second of the performance by the CMA's Best Entertainer of the Year for ten years running. A year and a half ago we caught Garth in Yankee Stadium, a disappointing night riddled by rain delays and an abbreviated concert. But the performance on Sunday night, coming near the end of Garth's three year long world tour, topped any concert I have ever seen.
When Garth Brooks stepped onstage, the energy and the magic touched every member of the audience in a way that united each person in the stadium, which actually shook from the foot stomping and hand clapping that went on all night. Garth gave his all, running back and forth across the stage, jumping onto the drummer's cage and climbing atop it so that even fans seated behind the stage could see the star up close.
Garth opened the evening with “Baby, Let's Lay Down and Dance,” which is from his newest recording, Gunslinger, but he greeted the audience by saying his intentions for the night were to sing what his audience wanted most to hear, his “old stuff.” “Rodeo,” “The River,” “Papa Loved Mama,” and “Make Me Feel Your Love,” were just a few classic Garth songs to which we were treated.
One of the most special things about a Garth Brooks concert is how he engages with his fans. At one point he hugged his guitar close and explained how every now and again a songwriter has a tune that's a “slow starter.” As he lifted his head to begin the song, a clap of thunder and a lightening bolt flashed across the large screen, and then the first notes of “The Thunder Rolls” came forth in a rendition that touched the listener's core. “The thunder rolls, and the lightening strikes, Another love grows cold on a sleepless night, As the storm blows cold, out of control, deep in her heart, the thunder rolls,” Brooks crooned.
The audience joined in the chorus with Garth as they do with almost every song, a phenomenon that the artist encouraged and applauded. So much of the exhilaration of a Garth Brooks concert is in the joining in with him, particularly in the Jimmy Buffet style “Two Pina Coladas.” Everyone joined the party with “Give me two pina coladas, I need one for each hand, Let's set sail with Captain Morgan, Oh, and never leave dry land, Hey troubles I forgot 'em, buried 'em in the sand, So bring me two pina coladas, She said good-bye to her good timin' man.”
The opening act of the concert had started out to be the rising country star, Mitch Russell, who currently has the number one song on the country charts, “Ask Me How I Know.” However, as Russell completed his first number, the stage suddenly plunged into darkness, and due to an hour long delay, Russell's set had to be scrubbed. The compassionate Brooks asked the audience to welcome Russell back to the stage, however, and together they performed Russell's big hit. The audience went wild, cheering for Russell, and Garth expressed his gratitude when Russell retreated from the stage light. “I thank you so much for what you did for that young man tonight,” said Garth.
About half way through the evening, Garth began the stunning song “In Another's Eyes,” which was the cue for his beautiful wife, the dynamic Trisha Yearwood, to join the singer onstage. Yearwood entertained the fans with “How Do I Live,” “XXXs and OOOs (an American Girl),” and “Prizefighter.” Before she finished her set, Yearwood introduced the members of her band, as well as long-time back-up singer/songwriter, Karyn Rochelle. With her flowing blonde locks, Rochelle could almost be Yearwood's twin. The duo performed a moving rendition of “Georgia Rain,” one of Rochelle's songs.
When Garth reclaimed the stage after a juicy kiss with his talented wife, he continued the tradition of introducing his band and back-up singers. Robert “Bob” Bailey nearly stole the show with a rendition of “Shout,” made famous by the Isley Brothers as well as the classic film Animal House. The newest member of the band has been with Brooks for 21 years, Jimmy Mattingly, played the fiddle. Mark Greenwood was on bass, Dave Gant fingered the fiddle and keys, and “Bruuuuuuce” Bouton strummed the guitar. Steve Cox tickled the keys and guitarist Jimmy Garcia, who started out with Yearwood 25 years ago, now performed onstage all night.
Garth imparted a little family lore to the audience when introducing the musicians who kept the energy up for the entire evening. “We've been family for a long time,” he said. “The first time Ms. Yearwood ever opened a concert was for Garth Brooks . . . and the first time Garth Brooks ever had an opening act, it was Ms. Yearwood.”
One of Garth's favorite artists is Billy Joel, as has been obvious since his version of “Shameless” was released. The extraordinary vocalist, Vicki Hampton, can be heard, riding above all the others in this emotional piece. Brooks also treated the audience to “Piano Man,” and I half expected Billy Joel to come strutting out onstage to join Garth as the country singer had done in Joel's famous “Last Play at Shea” concert a few years ago.
But for me, the highlight of the evening came when Garth sang “Baton Rouge,” probably his shortest song. This upbeat lovesong, which tells the story of a truck driver who stops to call his sweetheart “every hundred miles,” recalls a time when there were no cell phones to connect distant lovers, and a dime would pay for a call in a public phone booth. The upbeat song had the audience on its feet, singing along as the concert coasted toward the encores.
By the way, Garth, reluctant to leave the stage which clearly he loves so dearly, performed eight songs in the encore, including some old favorites that he doesn't perform often. He closed out the evening with the rousing “Standing Outside the Fire.”
Reluctantly Tom and I gathered up our bag with our new Garth tee shirts in it and headed back to Penn Station, where surprisingly we ran into our three new friends from Metro Park. We sat together on the train home, extolling the events of the evening and missing our stop. When we exited the train in downtown Metuchen, we piled into a taxi together, still chattering about the evening, although it was nearly two in the morning.
My point is that the lyrics and music of Garth Brooks has a way of bringing strangers together and making them seem like lifelong friends. In a world that today often seems dark, confusing and out of control, the power of Garth Brook's music reminds us that there is still hope for a new day and a better world.
When the last thing we notice is the color of skin
And the first thing we look for is the beauty within,
When the skies and oceans are clean again,
We shall be free.