Garth Brooks Returns to Country Radio Seminar

Format's Biggest Star Plays Acoustic, Fields Questions

Eleven years after he had a Country Radio
Seminar crowd whooping and hollering over
“Friends in Low Places,” Garth Brooks returned to
the annual event Friday (March 2), this time
performing solo. Dressed casually in jeans, a Chris
LeDoux ball cap and work boots, Brooks revisited
his old hits and played songs that influenced the
direction of his music. He also answered questions
from the large lunchtime gathering at the Nashville
Convention Center.

Brooks made an ambiguous announcement of his
retirement in October, though he is at work on a
new album. “It’s been a year, a year and a half, of
taking care of responsibilities that I ran from for
years,” he said, apparently referring to his role as father to his daughters.

Brooks referred only briefly to future work. His new album, he predicted, will show
Bob Seger’s influence. “For me, where Bob Seger was in the ’70s is where I want
to be right now as an artist, singing what I call ‘blue-collar cool stuff,” he said.
“When I see the album, I see thunderstorms, wheat fields, that kind of cowboy
country thing, for me.”

He also said his estrangement from his wife Sandy — they filed for divorce in
November — has colored the new project. “Everything that I write … sounds like
Edgar Allan Poe on downers. Dark would be bright for this stuff … I should be
drinking to write this kind of stuff.”

Of the 4,000 songs he has heard for the new project, Brooks said he has put a
hold on one for himself and one for a duet with Trisha Yearwood. His producer,
Allen Reynolds, has listened to more than 10,000 songs without bringing one to
Brooks.

The CRS luncheon was hosted by the American
Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers
(ASCAP), the performing rights organization that
collects royalties for the performance of Brooks’ songs.

“I know the ASCAP luncheon is to come and to
show you guys stuff you haven’t seen,” he said,
“but you guys pretty much know me inside and
out, so what I thought we’d do [for the 11-year
anniversary] is … just talk to each other.”

Brooks began with Cat Stevens’ 1971 pop hit,
“Wild World,” a song he said he played at Willie’s
Saloon in Stillwater, Okla., before becoming a
recording artist.

He recalled meeting Bob Dylan at the Grammys in 1992 — “I could never
understand a damn word he ever said,” Brooks joked before performing Dylan’s
“To Make You Feel My Love.”

Brooks waxed wistful for the country music of the ’70s. “It will never be what it
was when it was Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, Conway Twitty, Charley Pride,
Loretta Lynn,” he said. He proclaimed “He Stopped Loving Her Today” the
“all-time, best-written country song there is,” but said his personal favorite is Cal
Smith’s 1974 hit, “Country Bumpkin.”

From his own repertoire, Brooks did parts of “Beaches of Cheyenne” (a request
from an audience member), “The River,” “Unanswered Prayers,” “She’s Every
Woman” and “We Shall Be Free.”

He brazenly demonstrated his debt to Seger and James Taylor, playing a medley
that suggested striking similarities between Seger’s “Turn the Page” and Brooks’
“The Thunder Rolls,” and acknowledging Taylor as a key influence on his
arrangement of Victoria Shaw’s “She’s Every Woman.”

Fielding questions from the audience, Brooks said he would most like to ask a question of Jesus Christ, though he does not know what that question might be. He admitted he “got the living s— kicked out of me” for undertaking the Chris Gaines project. “I don’t think people really dug me playing a character that was so opposite of me.” He invited one audience member, Gina Notrica, to join him onstage to harmonize on a chorus of “The River.” And to Johnny Cash’s sister, he admitted that while he admires the Man in Black “one of the
few smart decisions I made was not to try and copy Johnny Cash.”

Brooks nodded to his CRS appearance 11 years ago with a performance of
“Pains,” a parody of “Friends in Low Places,” and he finished his informal
session with “The Dance.”