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The consummate performer
The consummate performer
Photo by Jack Gorman

There's No Better Performer To Kick Off RodeoHouston Than Garth Brooks

Garth Brooks
NRG Stadium
February 27, 2K18

I’ll never truly get Garth Brooks, studio musician. Ahead of his return to RodeoHouston, I spent the early afternoon driving around listening to No Fences. For those of you who don’t know, No Fences sold 17 million copies back when albums were still a thing that people bought. As the record went on, I found that I could appreciate the humor of “Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House,” the spunk of “Friends in Low Places” and the bombast of “The Thunder Rolls.” I could appreciate these things, but I could never love them.

And that’s a real shame, because if I connected with Garth’s songs even just a little bit this very well could have been one of the best concerts of my life. Even without an emotional tie to his work, I’m fully prepared to say that I think he’s the pure performer — which is to say if you look past the bells and whistles and just focus on what he does on stage — I’ve ever seen in concert. I don’t understand how anyone else can win Entertainer of the Year in country music when Garth Brooks is standing and breathing.

You know you’re watching something special the minute Brooks steps on stage. The best word I can think to describe him is magnetic; the way he projects himself on stage makes him feel immediately larger than life in ways that I don’t think can be captured with audio, in photo or through video. You want to cheer for him even if you’re not entirely sure why.

And in person, those songs that I didn’t really hear the appeal of hours before became things that I was genuinely excited to hear. I might not have gotten chills when the thunder that starts “The Thunder Rolls” started shaking the walls of NRG Stadium, but I was pretty much on the edge of my seat waiting to hear how the story of the song turned out.

Garth has ballads, but he and his crew know how to rock too.
Garth has ballads, but he and his crew know how to rock too.
Photo by Jack Gorman

It helps that Brooks always just seems so damn happy to be on stage performing. His happiness is infectious, and it never feels like he’s just going through the motions the way that it does with so many other artists. I bought in hook, link and sinker when he talked about how honored he was to be back at the Rodeo after being away for so long.

That he was the first performer on the new RodeoHouston stage was a bit of genius on the part of all parties involved in making it happen. In time I’m sure we’ll see artists do some incredible things with the structure, but for its first night out Brooks made sure he hit every inch of it he could. The entire thing was captivating, and I don’t know how he’ll top it come the final show of the 2018 rodeo; I don’t know, but I have no doubt he will. He’s just that kind of performer.

Personal Bias: I don’t think “The Thunder Rolls” works without the third verse.

The Crowd: The lines to get into NRG Stadium before the show started were ridiculous, and yet somehow the attendance was only 75,018. Listen, I’m all for the integrity of the RodeoHouston attendance figures, but you really mean to tell me that last year’s Luke Bryan performance moved more tickets? C’mon Rodeo, sometimes you just have to lie.

Mutton Bustin’ Update, Day 1: The winner had amazing hair and said she wants to be a spy when she grows up. I don’t care what happens between now and the end of the rodeo because she’s the best.

Random Notebook Dump: I ate my way through Gold Buckle without needing anything more than a nap. I milked a goat without getting hit in the face. I’ve walked miles and miles of rodeo without incident. Today I scraped my knee getting into a tram to save me some walking. Make of that story what you will.

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