Garth Brooks stood in the cold, wind-driven rain of Texas’ South Padre Island Wednesday night (Nov. 28), warmed by an adoring crowd and the knowledge that his new album, Scarecrow, will be another bestseller. It was Brooks’ third and final televised concert of his “Coast to Coast Live” tour. Before the evening ended in a rain squall, the temperature had dropped into the 40s.
Last week’s show was staged on the deck of the USS Enterprise in Norfolk, Va., under similarly chilly conditions. The opening concert was at The Forum in Los Angeles. All three were broadcast on CBS in the prime-time 10-11 p.m. (ET) slot.
According to figures released earlier in the day by the SoundScan sales monitoring service, Scarecrow’s second-week sales of 442,747 units almost equaled those of the first week, 465,647.
Brooks was alternately gleeful and wistful as he courted his audience of die-hard fans, many of whom had slept in their cars the night before in an effort to claim a spot close to the gigantic stage on the beach beside the Convention Center.
Although Brooks did not ignore the existence of his new album, as he had the concert before, he mentioned it only once; and he sang no songs from it during the televised portion of the concert. This last show was also free of the patriotic flourishes that opened the first two.
Given the near total absence of album hype, it is not at all clear what Brooks hoped to achieve with these concerts. Was it to prove to himself and his detractors that he still has all the old appeal? Was it simply a long, Brooksian-size goodbye to live performing? What was clear is that he’s still too big to confine his music to a one-hour, commercial-riddled format. None of the shows allowed him to build the dramatic momentum or display the shades of emotion that his 12 years of hits warrant.
Bouncing onto the stage in black hat, bright yellow shirt and jeans, Brooks set the jacket-clad crowd rocking with “Tearin’ It Up (and Burnin’ It Down.” “Welcome to sunny South Padre Island,” he screamed as he concluded the vocal romp. “At 2 o’clock this afternoon,” he said, “we were going to cancel the show, and then we looked out there and saw all those people sleeping in their cars.”
Brooks continued with the dark and brooding “Rodeo” and then geared-down to the song that launched his career in 1989, “Much Too Young (to Feel This Damn Old).” Playing off the song’s reference to “a worn-out tape of Chris LeDoux,” Brooks ended with a shout of “God bless Chris LeDoux.” Next up was the dreamily contemplative “The River,” which Brooks said has inspired the most fan letters of all the songs he’s recorded, outstripping even “The Dance” and “Friends in Low Places.”
With an ironic nod toward life on the beach, Brooks moved on to “Two Pina Coladas,” accompanied on guitar by his old friend Steve Wariner . “People at home have no idea that it’s about 30 degrees here,” he said to Wariner as the two charged into the effervescent “Longneck Bottle.”
Explaining to the crowd that — after God and the fans — an artist is most energized by his or her early musical influences, Brooks invited one of his own such influences, Jerry Jeff Walker, to the stage. Backed by members of his band, Walker ambled mechanically through his signature hit, “Mr. Bojangles.”
Looking out at what must have been the biggest audience he’s seen since he played Willie Nelson ’s 1974 Fourth of July Picnic, Walker exclaimed, “I always wondered what the real big time was like. This is it!” He wrapped up his set with “Texas on My Mind,” written by his son Django, as Brooks sang along.
With the needle-like rain slanting in, Brooks moved to the very edge of the stage. “Today of all days,” he said to the upturned faces, “this song is for you.” Accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, he crooned “To Make You Feel My Love.” Then, with his shirt soaked and his hat dripping with rain, he wrapped up the televised portion of the mutual lovefest with “The Dance.”
In bringing Walker and Wariner and Keb’ Mo’ (on the first show) before a prime-time audience of millions, Brooks once again demonstrated the generosity of spirit that has too often been obscured by critics who’ve never accepted his self-dramatizing ways and overwhelming popularity.
If these concerts are indeed Brooks’ valedictory, he shouldn’t be allowed to leave the stage without taking an encore for his unflagging devotion to his fans and his selfless support of other performers. And it wouldn’t hurt if someone tossed him a rose or two for making country music the hottest property and the most exciting format since Hank Williams stumbled into the sunset.
At the height of his popularity, when he could have demanded and gotten top dollar for the worst seats in the house, Brooks insisted that his concert promoters keep ticket prices in the $20 range. He went to great lengths to outwit and circumvent ticket-scalpers. Ill-advised though it was, he attempted to thwart the sale of used CDs in retail record stores, arguing that such sales were financially damaging to songwriters.
Brooks tapped Trisha Yearwood , Martina McBride , Alison Krauss and Susan Ashton as opening acts for his tours when their names meant absolutely nothing to his career but his name almost everything to theirs. He recorded songs of great meaning and ambition — “We Shall Be Free,” “The Change,” “The Dance,” “Wolves” — while other of his peers contented themselves with cooler and more fashionable navel-gazing and honky-tonking.
Even those who like Brooks’ music may grow weary of his humbler-than-thou posturing, but no one should ever forget that this Oklahoma titan lighted up the sky for country music. Obviously, legions of fans still remember — and still appreciate.
Here are the set lists of Brooks’ three “Coast to Coast” telecasts:
On South Padre Island, Texas (Nov. 28)
“Tearin’ It Up (and Burnin’ It Down)”
“Much Too Young (to Feel This Damn Old)”
“Two Pina Coladas”
“Longneck Bottle” (Brooks, Steve Wariner)
“Mr. Bojangles” (Jerry Jeff Walker)
“Texas on My Mind” (Jerry Jeff Walker with Brooks singing harmony)
“To Make You Feel My Love”
On the USS Enterprise, Norfolk, Va. (Nov. 21)
“The Star-Spangled Banner” (Sailor)
“Beaches of Cheyenne”
“Papa Loved Mama”
“Standing Still” (Jewel)
“Someday Soon” (Jewel, Brooks)
“Friends in Low Places”
“When You Come Back to Me Again”
“Calling Baton Rouge”
At The Forum, Los Angeles (Nov. 14)
“Amazing Grace” (Brooks’ backup singers)
“Calling Baton Rouge”
“Two of a Kind (Workin’ on a Full House)”
“The Thunder Rolls”
“We Shall Be Free”
“Hand It Over” (Keb’ Mo’)
“Wrapped Up in You”
“Squeeze Me In” (Brooks, Trisha Yearwood)
“Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)”