Never mind the grass stains! The phenomenal Garth Brooks, often referred to as the “flying country/western singer,” didn’t attempt to swing from the Empire State Building, leap from the Brooklyn Bridge, light the Statue of Liberty’s torch or shoot out of the Lincoln Tunnel for his history-making New York City concert. He did, however, manage to turn the Big Apple’s famed Central Park into one of the largest concert arenas in music history.
“Hello New York!” Brooks screamed out to what was reported by various park security officials to have been possibly over one million people who turned out for the free record-breaking event. Only fifteen minutes prior to Brooks’ show, the announcement was made that the park had already welcomed 750,000 folks, with lines of concert-goers continuing to flock in for a view — or at least with hopes of hearing the show. Even thousands who weren’t fortunate enough to find a spot in the park’s North Meadow managed to nestle themselves into nearby meadows of woods hundreds of feet away. Simply hearing the show seemed to be enough.
The Central Park concert record attendance was previously held by Paul Simon a few years back with approximately 600,000 attendees. For Brooks, his largest crowd before now was but a mere guesstimated 100,000 fans at a Knoxville, Tennessee festival.
The numbers from the Central Park event peaked high from every angle across the board. According to Capitol records, within only two days after the show, album sales for Brooks exploded. Before checking out the details from Central Park, check out these latest album stats: Hits-up 114%, Garth Brooks-up100%, No Fences-up 87%, Fresh Horses-up 80%, In Pieces-up 64% and Ropin’ The Wind-up 60%. The event also marks the 5th highest-rated HBO special on all of TV in HBO homes, and was the most watched and highest-rated original program on HBO in 1997. Reportedly, the network will provide a descrambled telecast of the concert to all basic cable and television subscribers. The special is slated to re-run on September 13.
Undoubtedly, something this special is worth a re-run. Brooks stampeded onto his phenomenal six-story stage, which spanned the length of an entire football field, wailing out his romping “Rodeo” hit, wearing traditional black Wranglers, boots and a dashing, yet smart, blue and black western shirt. Gasping for breath after his first explosive number, he announced “I just came here to raise some hell, play some music and have some fun! So what do ya say? Let’s get started!”
He did just that for close to two and a half action-and-music-packed hours — unveiling a long and winding hit list which included such songs as “Papa Loved Mama,” “Beaches Of Cheyenne,” “Two Of A Kind,” “The Thunder Rolls,” “We Shall Be Free,” “Unanswered Prayers,” “The River,” “That Summer,” “Baton Rouge,” “Shameless,” “Ain’t Going Down Til The Sun Comes Up” and “The Dance.”
And if Brooks’ own dynamic performance wasn’t enough, the party picked up more pizzaz when pop-rocker Billy Joel and folk-rockster Don McClean were introduced as special guests at separate phases throughout the concert. Believe it or not, if this 14-acre stretch of shoulder-to-shoulder music lovers could have gotten even more wild and wooly, it did explosively when both Brooks and Joel jammed down on Brooks’ “Ain’t Going Down Til The Sun Comes Up.” The two music legends also went on to swap vocal spills on Joel’s classic “New York State Of Mind.”
Then if you could only imagine what had to have been perhaps one of the biggest sing-alongs in history, try to register possibly a million-plus music die-hards chiming away to McClean’s impeccable “American Pie.” Not a soul for more than 14 acres wasn’t tasting this pie and loving it.
Although the concert, which was telecast live by HBO, departed from the airwaves, the show went on for those in the park. The event’s extended performance prompted Brooks to pull his oldies but goodies out of the hat. He went on to whip out “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” as well as the cut that put him on the music map — his late 80’s debut, “Much Too Young To Feel This Damn Old.”
Following the coveted footsteps of such music greats as Simon & Garfunkel and Diana Ross at previous Central Park concerts, Brooks admitted that the tension was extremely high before the event.
“Sure, it makes me nervous,” he admitted before the big day during a press conference at New York City Hall. “Just the fact that you’re trying to represent country music the best you can also makes you scared to death!” During the conference, New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani declared Thursday, August 7, Garth Brooks Day in New York City.
Despite some expected pre-show jitters, Brooks’ gut-gushing performance was hot enough to melt his own spotlight. And with the heart-and-soul delivery of his ballad batch, he obviously managed to melt a few hearts as well.
“I just think he is a totally amazing person,” said Kera Lawson, who lives in Manhattan. “I brought eight rolls of film and even slept outside the park last night so I would get a good spot.”
Aaron Seymour is originally from Brooks’ homestate of Oklahoma. “Being from Oklahoma City and able to come to see him in New York of all places is just unbelievable.”
“I just couldn’t believe it,” said Kyle Stanley of Brooklyn. “This concert was unreal.”
“He’s like R&B, rock and country and everything all in one,” gushed Janet Jones of Pennsylvania. “That’s why he brings in all kinds of people of every age and race. He just crosses over all the borders of music.”
“I think it’s so fascinating to know that so many people who don’t even like or listen to country music came to Garth’s show and left loving it,” beamed Phyllis Schwartz of upper New York. “I was that way and so were my friends who came along. He just really sings with such sincerity and emotion from the heart. That’s what grabbed me.”
Since day one of the announcement several months ago that Brooks would take on the free Central Park stage, perhaps the most repeated question has been “Why New York City?” when Brooks is full-forced country. Undoubtedly, there was tremendous fear that the attendance would neither meet Brooks’ nor city officials’ great expectations.
“I didn’t think we’d get anybody to come if they paid,” chuckled Brooks earlier in the week. During the concert, he added, “On every interview I’ve done before this show, the first question was always ’Why New York City?’ This is why New York City,” he went on to say after being surprisingly overwhelmed by the crowd’s welcoming response, never-ending cheers and heart-pounding sing-along results.
“I’m in no way going to defend country music because it doesn’t need defending,” he stated earlier after being described as a torch-carrier for country music. “I think it (country music) is still flying high. But it’s like any other format. It’s going to have its ups and its downs and will have trouble finding itself sometimes. And when it does find itself, it’s going to shine. So I don’t think there’s anything that the New York or Central Park thing is going to do to save country music or help it in any way.”
But despite what could have been a slack turn-out, the promotional and marketing hype couldn’t have been more impressive. Various methods of promotion included: 2,280 subway car posters; bus shelter advertising in 40 locations; phone kiosk advertising in 125 locations; posters on 150 buses; 4,500 interior train car posters and 600 outdoor platform posters on Metro North and Long Island Railroad; 220,000 flyers to be handed out during the week to Long Island Railroad, Metro North and New Jersey Transit customers; 650 vertical and horizontal light pole banners throughout New York City and inside Central Park (including Grand Central Station, Penn Station and the Lincoln Tunnel).
Perhaps one of the highlights of the phenomenal awareness program was Brooks’ image on the Kodak Kodarama in Times Square. The 32 x 51-foot backlit display features a photo of Brooks in a white t-shirt and black hat, with the message “I love New York! See you in August!” along with his signature. According to Kodak officials, an expected one million plus people are expected to see the display before it’s taken down on August 25.
Additionally, Brooks starred on VH-1 Television’s special production of Garth Brooks: Town Hall Live on Monday. The exclusive one-hour special reeled in countless phone call and internet questions from Garth fans across the country, including one of Brooks’ idols, James Taylor.
“I just wanted to chip in and say ’Break a leg and I wish you luck,'” Taylor encouraged Brooks during the conversation. “I’ll be watching and will be there with you.” Garth answered back by saying “Any place that I play you’re always there with me.”
Sadly enough, what wasn’t there was the anticipated release of Brooks’ long-awaited new album, Sevens, which was originally scheduled for release on the day of the concert.
“I don’t know when the next record is coming out,” he said prior to the concert. “And no, I haven’t got the problems resolved yet. It’s not me or the record label. There was just this massive, huge cut from the record label. And they only knocked out the people who had been delivering the record for 14 months. But there’s still one remaining person there who I’m putting my trust in. Not only my record, but for all music, the support needs to be there.”
No sweat for this not-so-shabby entertainer though. Brooks has so far sold in excess of 73 million records. He’s the only male artist in American music history to have two solo albums top the ten million sales mark. He’s the fastest-selling album artist in history — outselling Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and Madonna. He’s only behind the legendary Beatles in this soaring sales stratosphere.
“For some reason, people get what we do,” Brooks had explained earlier about his on-going success. “We’ve been very fortunate in sticking with our guns.”
Undoubtedly, the success continues to go on for Brooks, with or without his high-powered stage show. Although the artist brought the sky down with his dynamic moves, grooves and hit-factor tunes, his traditional live-show antics weren’t as present in Central Park as previous shows performed during his current three-year world tour.
“It’s going to be exactly the other way around,” he told country.com before the concert. “I think if anybody finds something in the show that they go, ’A-w-w!’ it’s going to be the lack of being a spectacle. It will be the lack of burning up the stage or flying across the crowd. We’re focusing extremely heavily on the music, plus the influences from our special guests. Hopefully it will be a night of just focusing on what has gotten Garth wherever he is today. And that’s the music.
“There was the Simon & Garfunkel show and then Diana Ross who kept playing just like there wasn’t a cloud in the sky,” he continued. “Those things are the things we’re going to carry on the tradition of. But it’s not going to be the spectacle show like at the Texas Stadium or in Dublin, Ireland.
“Anytime you get to play for anybody, it’s great,” he continued. “When you play for people who know your music, you’ve got friends. When you play for people who’ve never heard your music, you’ve got opportunity. What’s cool about playing in Central Park is that you’ve got a chance to have it 50/50. You’ve got your friends with you and they’re bringing people who don’t know you or your music. But you’ve got this confidence from the people who do know you because they’re your friends. Hopefully, these new people will find something they really dig.”
With a final concert attendance count ranging from more than 250,000 to perhaps even more than a million people, it’s safe to say, by all means, “They dug it!” And if there were those who didn’t dig what the CMA Entertainer of the Year nominee had to offer, perhaps his own advice would be the best words of encouragement.
“If you like what you see, check out country music,” he said prior to his Central Park performance. “There’s a lot of good things in there you can relate to and pick out.”