When you publish something called The Anthology Part III, it’s obviously a collection of some kind. So when I read the latest installment of Garth Brook’s series — the one called Live – I assumed he’d have pulled together stories from all the live shows he’s done in his nearly four decades in music.
What I didn’t expect was an actual, tangible collection.
The book has keepsakes like his offer letter from Opryland to work for about $5 an hour as a performer in 1981. It has his audition application for the Bluebird Café’s Songwriter Night in 1987. It has the poster from an Ohio county fair listing Brooks as “family fun entertainment.” It has the flyer from Thumpers in Stillwater, Oklahoma where he played after patrons had enjoyed free beer from 7-9:00.
Then there are the pictures. So. Many. Pictures. Brooks playing guitar during talent night at his house, Brooks in his early bands, Brook’s debut album on display in a record store in 1989, and Brooks in front of his first tour bus. Then there are the stories he’s gathered: going to his first concert (Styx) with his older brother, getting his first gigs (at Willie’s Saloon), forming his first band (Santa Fe), trying out songs he’d written (his “worthless originals”), trying to hunt down Willie Nelson to pitch him a song he’d written (“The Man Behind the Plow”), and that time he played the Opry at 3:00 a.m. (for the Midnight Opry radio show).
The book obviously takes you right up to the present day, but what piques my interest the most is the time when the old stuff was new. Seeing the memorabilia from those very early years made me wonder, “Why did he keep all this stuff? Did he have that much faith in his future? And did he know that one day he’d write a book and he’d have pages to fill?”
When Brooks played the University of Notre Dame’s football stadium in October, I asked him. And he gave all the credit to his mother Colleen.
“My mom had it all. When we were cleaning out her house, we found all of this,” Brooks told me. His mother died from a battle with throat cancer in 1999. “My mom kept everything.”
If Brooks’ mom had not appointed herself as the keeper of the family heirlooms, he might not have been able to fill this book with so many memories. He’d still have stories to tell, but seeing those memories come to life makes this book a treasure. (It’s also worth noting that Colleen must’ve had a very strong mother’s intuition about her youngest son’s bright, bright future.)
After Wednesday’s (Nov. 14) CMA Awards, Brooks came backstage to talk about his performance at the show, and about the show he’d done at Notre Dame, when he packed the stadium with roughly 84,000 fans, even though it was in the low 30s all night long. That concert was filmed for a special that airs on CBS on Dec. 2.
“What I remember most was (the fans) singing, and how joyous their voices felt,” he said. “I saw the special for the first time, and I’m amazed. They are fantastic. It’s neat, because there’s what you think happened and what really went on. And what really went on was even better than what I thought happened. Out there (on stage), they kind of know you, flaws and all.
“And they still show up.”