By: Heather Gunn
Country legend Garth Brooks took over Edmonton’s Rogers Place for an unprecedented nine sold-out concerts spanning two weekends – his last time playing in the city was 21 years ago. Tickets sold out in mere minutes, but I was lucky enough to get tickets to his sixth show on Feb. 23. As long as fans were buying tickets, Brooks’ team added more shows.
The arena was packed on Thursday night, with hundreds coming from out of town to catch the country spectacle. Being that this was a single show day (yes, Brooks played double shows on a few of the days – talk about exhausting) there were two opening acts. First on stage to warm up the crowd was the sassy Nashville-based singer-songwriter Karyn Rochelle, who is one of Brooks’ long-time backup singers. She had a fiery presence that carried all the way through her brief set.
Alberta native Brett Kissel was next, performing a solid set of his hit songs including “Airwaves.” He even threw a few covers into the mix, surprisingly singing a bit of the catchy “Honey I’m Good” by pop singer Andy Grammer. Despite his set only skimming the surface of his discography, he impressed the audience and got everyone ready for the act to follow. Kissel nearly lost his voice a few days ago due to a cold, but I was blown away by how clear and strong he sounded despite that. He didn’t disappoint for his current fans, while also bringing a taste of new country to those who are more into Brooks’ classic country style.
For roughly the next two hours, Brooks immersed himself in his show. He is a magnetic showman who lives up to the immense success and fame he’s accumulated over his long career. It’s fascinating to watch him seamlessly navigate from emotional ballads to roaring, rocking up-tempo tracks without any sign of slowing down. He was genuine throughout the night, most notably when introducing his band, who he said are like family to him – most have been on the road with him for nearly twenty years. Also, near the end of the show, he jumped down from the stage to serenade a seven-year-old fan with her favourite song, “Standing Outside the Fire.”
About halfway through the show Brooks left the stage and in place emerged his wife, country singer Trisha Yearwood, who played a string of her hits while an advertisement of her cooking show played on the screen behind her. A noticeable chunk of the crowd left for a break at this point – but their loss; Yearwood’s vocal performance was spectacular and just as powerful as ever. Her hit “She’s In Love With the Boy” had even the toughest cowboy concertgoers singing along and moving in their seats.
Highlights of the night included “The Thunder Rolls,” where the entire arena darkened and fake thunder sounds and rain images on the screens filled the space. It was a chilling, epic moment. “Unanswered Prayers,” one of Brooks’ ballads, was another memorable moment. As the song went on, most people in the crowd had their cell phone flashlights held up, creating a stunning sea of light that perfectly accompanied the nature of the lyrics.
While the majority of the show was full on hit after hit, the encore was something unexpected. Brooks came back out onto the massive stage alone, along with an acoustic guitar, and with some humour he noted that those who had to leave early to make it to work in the morning were free to leave and that he enjoyed every moment performing for them. All of the biggest singles had already been played, like the monumental “Friends in Low Places,” and “The Dance,” so it was not clear what he had left to perform. Brooks used his encore for something special: he made his way around the 360-degree stage and read as many fan-made signs in the audience as he could. The signs he chose were ones with song requests on them – and if he was able to play the requests, he did.
I have been to more concerts than I can count in my lifetime, and that encore was something I’ve never seen before. Taking time to not only read fan’s signs, but engage with who wrote them and make it an extremely personal moment for them is what makes Brooks stand out as an entertainer. When you’re at a Garth Brooks show, you can feel the love and care he has for his supporters—the way he makes the show that personal and interactive was something I will never forget. I grew up with Brooks’ music, so to hear those songs live as an adult was an emotional and special experience.
(Feature Photo by: Heather Gunn)