First Published September 2022
NEXT TIME, “I DON’T MIND COMIN’ TO YOU!”
It happened on Friday night, out of the blue. I was in Croke Park for the second-last show of his historic five-night run of concerts at GAA HQ, his first night back on stage after almost a week off. Only moments after taking my seat, I happened to throw a quick eye on my emails. And there it was. A message with just two words in the subject-line: GARTH BROOKS.
Having been a fan of Garth from all the way back in the beginning, what I read when I clicked on that email was definitely a little bit surreal, and unquestionably one of the most exciting moments of my life…
I was about an hour away from having the pleasure of watching Garth perform ‘live’ for the third time in a week – something that was a dream come true in itself – and now, I was going to be in the same room as the man himself in less than twenty-four hours.
It’s a regular occurrence for big-name artists to have a press conference ahead of their shows here, of course. But it’s much more unusual for someone to hold such an event on the way out as well. But then again, you have to remember a couple of things. The first is that no-one else has ever done what Garth was about to, by wrapping up a run of five sold-out shows in Croke Park. And the second thing is that there’s never – not ever – been another artist like Garth.
With the press conference scheduled for just ahead of his final performance, and with some 80,000 fans who would be going crazy with anticipation and excitement above and around us, we knew that when the invite stated ‘short press conference’, that was very likely – and understandably – what would happen.
But, when Garth finally joined us, in or around 7pm, he stayed answering questions for a full half-hour, not saying his final farewell to us all until a mere thirty minutes before he was due to actually open that night’s show. And it wasn’t just with his time that Garth was generous either, having arranged a special Garth-decorated private ‘Brooks Bar’ backstage where we were all invited for a drink on him before leaving.
All in all, being in the same room as Garth is the same as seeing him on stage, unforgettable.
“After a week here, I’m heavier than I was when I got here. That’s all we’ve been doin’ is eatin’ since we’ve been here. It’s been great!”, he began.
“Thank you all for doin’ this. I know this seems very odd, but this was Randy Bernard (his co-manager) – here’s Randy up here [points to Randy] – Randy is one of those guys, that everything you [the press, media] do, he knows. Everything. It would drive me crazy tryin’ to keep up with you guys, right. But everything you do, he knows. And he told me, he said, ‘They’ve been so sweet here, we should do somethin’ for ’em’. So this was Randy Bernard’s idea to have you here to answer any last questions that you may have, and then I think Sinead is going to take you guys over to the Brooks Bar!”
“The thing I love most about this,” Garth continued, “the two things that this special is definitely goin’ to show, is the gorgeousness of the city and how, oddly enough, the thing that stopped us from comin’ here before, how this stadium kinda blends in with everything, and kinda is part of the community. And then, how the people sing! So, it will be a showcase for Ireland, 100%, and I cannot think of a better way to deflect it off of me and onto you! It’ll be beautiful, and the voices will shine through.”
“I’ll give you a little bit of a run-down on the week real quick. First night [Friday, September 9th], I got behind, so I was naturally upset with myself. I just couldn’t stop cryin’ [laughs], I just kept cryin’ and cryin’ the first night. Finally got it together. Second night, felt like it was a prize fight, it was them or us, them or us, I had the best time! Sunday night, I came out here thinkin’ it was gonna be a Sunday crowd, and I don’t know what happened! It was supposed to rain, it didn’t rain! My voice was supposed to be gone, it wasn’t gone! THAT was my favourite night. So far, Sunday night, of all things. So then, somehow they ask me to take four or five days off and wait to come back and do this again, right, which drives you nuts. And so, I came out of the gate last night [Friday, September 16th] probably harder than I ever have…and ran into a church! For four songs, I’m out there pushin’ and pushin’, and they’re like, nah, just sing to me. And then it started to settle in, oh my gosh, you talk about cryin’! So tonight, I’m gonna try not to cry whatsoever [laughter in the room]. But if somebody goes, what kind of night would you love to have tonight? I would love to have the cap of everything. I’m hopin’ that the church is a pub tonight, and it’s loud, and we’ll have fun.”
Asked about the filming that’s been happening while he was here in Ireland, and when we might see the end results of that, here’s what Garth had to say…
“That’s a good question. Number one, you just want to document it. You guys live here, so I don’t know if you know how rare this place is. I’m gonna try to tell ya. So anytime you’re here you want to film it. And they’re gonna film it all, including the documentary. So there’s two documentary teams here following us around. One of them, the Dreamchasers, the same guys that did the world tour in ’94, sweet guys, they’re always with us when we’re here. They’re going to be documenting the journey from ’97, Croke Park, through to retirement, to the 2014 ‘wanted to come back’ kinda thing for me, and then finally getting to do it. And then, of course, the show itself will be done totally in a separate deal. Maybe they’ll go together in the same network or streaming service, I don’t know.”
In referring back to a mention of his wife, Trisha Yearwood, Garth remarked how, to him, when she comes out to sing it sounds like everybody wants to be her!
“When Miss Yearwood comes out to sing, from the stage, it sounds like everybody wants to be her. Because when she starts to sing, everybody sings with her! It’s all that Lady Gaga [part], and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, here it comes!’ I think that’s probably my favourite part in the show, is just that they [the fans] get that, because it’s nothing like the guy singin’ ‘Friends In Low Places’, that’s loud when that hits, it’s fun to watch!”
Joe Harrington of Sunshine 106 radio reminded Garth of a famous incident from twenty-five years ago when Garth ended up serenading a crowd from atop a minibus, prompting Garth to get a little bit emotional upon hearing that one of the men involved in that moment, Alan Clancy, will be getting married soon to his fiancée Jackie, with The Dance as the couple’s first dance. Asked if he had a message for the pair, Garth replied, “Yes, Alan and Jackie, here is to forever, and I can tell ya when it works, it’s the greatest thing on the planet! So you guys just keep lovin’ each other, ok?”
Then, in one of many funny moments during the press conference, Garth asked for Joe’s help, saying, “I remember singing on top of the van, but how in the hell did it all happen?!”
Joe recalled how it was supposed to be a low-profile appearance at a place called the Prince of Wales terrace in Bray,Wicklow. At the time of his visit to East Coast Radio (where Joe worked at the time) with some folk from his record label, Garth had yet to even play his first Croke Park show. However, as he was leaving someone asked him would he sing a song, and, Garth being Garth, that’s exactly what he did, asking if it was possible to get up on the minivan! “And I agreed to stand on top of the minivan?!’, asked Garth to a round of laughter. “I’ll be honest”, confessed Garth, “if somebody told me that story – ME – I’d say you’re lyin’! I couldn’t believe it! [But] I’ve seen pictures of it”.
Despite the fact that he was less than an hour away from taking to the stage for the last of his history-making five nights, there was already a question about whether or not he’d come back to Croke Park again…
“Well let’s talk about just ‘come back’ again, in whatever form or fashion. If it’s The Point [the 3Arena], I’m in, ok. I just love this place. I just want to play here. That’s all I want to do. If it’s out in the middle of a frickin’ field somewhere…I just want to play!Because what you guys give an artist, you can’t get anywhere else on this planet. I get it, I piss people off by saying there’s no place like Ireland. But if somebody does this for a livin’ and they want to come over here, [then] come on over here and you tell me if there’s any place like Ireland. So any chance to play here, I would love that.”
Pressed on the question of coming back specifically to Croke Park, Garth said, “I’m not sure about the Park. We eat dinner over here in the Croke Park Hotel, and if you guys have ever been there, they got all these posters of Billy Joel and everybody who’s played here, right. Well there’s Ed Sheeran, who I love to death, I look at his [poster], he’s got two nights… [pause]… somewhere, two nights somewhere, two nights somewhere, and he did two nights in Croke Park but it was a full tour. After this week of travelling around, I don’t mind comin’ to you” [room erupts in cheers and applause].
Asking about moments when he plays songs like The Dance or The River, when he just has to play a chord or two and then the crowd sings every word, Paul Quinn – whose excellent documentary on Garth aired last week on Virgin Media One – wondered what goes through his head in those moments?
“I try to describe what it is when you guys sing, and I can’t. I just start cryin’. And what’s crazy, though, is I see people here and we’ve done a whole tour together, they’re ballin’ like babies. It’s crazy. I don’t know. I wish I could explain it, but all I can do is cry. Damn it! [Laughter in the room]. Because you’re trying to be grateful, and at the same time, they’re paying you to do a job, get out there and sing the damn song, right?! But I can’t do it. I just wish I had some kind of articulation, or some kind of thing that made me sound impressive, but when all you do as a grown man is cry like a baby, I think that’s saying what it does to you right there.”
Paul had also asked Garth for his highlights of his time spent travelling around Ireland with his wife Trisha, and as he began to talk about their favourite dinner, he worried about getting the name of the venue right. Luckily for Garth – and even more so for us – Miss Yearwood herself just happened to be standing in the doorway, and was happy to confirm that it was The Wicklow Heather. Garth introduced Trisha and – almost shyly – she joined him front and centre, welcomed with another warm round of applause from all present.
Trisha confirmed the couple loved their lunch in the “warm and cosy” Wicklow Heather, and continued, “Then a lady named Betty, who is the proprietress, took us to the writing room, where there were all these first-edition books, and you don’t get to touch first-edition books at home, but she let me, and I love books. So it was just a really great day. And we’ve been driving through the countryside…”, and then, catching herself, Trisha laughed, saying, “Well, we weren’t driving…”, which prompted Garth tointerject, remarking, “Well one of us was!” [Laughter all round]. “Well yeah, you did drive”, admitted Trisha, adding, “but don’t tell anybody!” [Laughter again]. “He did really well”, she assured us! “I found that if I squeezed in everytime he passed a car, it helps!” [More laughter].
As Trisha began to walk back to the doorway in which she’d been standing, Garth, very cutely, took her by the hand and told her to stay, clearly wanting some of the attention to be shared by her too, and rightly so as well.
Asked once more about when he might be back again, Garth was clear about what he doesn’t want to happen…
“The first thing I would never want to do in this town is for this town to roll its eyes and go, ‘God, is he already back here?!’ So I want to play it right. But I can tell you this, the next time we’re back here, we won’t be here to play music. We’ll be back to do what we did this last week.”
Looking adoringly at Trisha by his side, with the pair still holding hands, Garth asked her with a smile if she was uncomfortable, but with a playful roll of her shoulders she reassured him that she was alright.
Asked about where his favourite place had been this week, Garth admitted that was a tough one to answer, before calling if for Dingle, labeling the Kerry town “gorgeous”, with Trisha adding that “Limerick was also beautiful”.
“It was fabulous to get to Limerick”, echoed Garth, “especially with what happened in 2014 with Limerick (when a system failure left a huge number of fans unable to get any tickets at all for his shows), and then they got it all fixed, and the rug got pulled out from under us. So Limerick was fun”.
“But we were told we went through eleven counties”, noted Trisha, with Garth qualifying that by adding, “And since I was driving, some of them we went through very quickly!” [Laughter all round]. “But it was fantastic”, he continued, “everybody was very sweet, that’s why the Ed Sheeran thing is… no matter where you go here! And it’s tough, because you guys think because we’re sittin’ up here we’re tryin’ to kiss your ass, I’m not. I’m tellin’ you that some countries excel in some things. You guys lead the world in how to be sweet to each other, and kind to people that come here to visit.”
Eddie Rowley brought the late Jim Aiken into the conversation, observing how one person can change a life, and how for Garth, in relation to Ireland, that person was surely the aforementioned promoter. But if Jim hadn’t brought Garth to Ireland in the first place, wondered Eddie, would he have ended up here?
“Anytime you talk about a good man, you talk about a good man’s name”, Garth began. “Jim Aiken is more than just Jim Aiken. It was his wife”, continued Garth,smiling,”who was a matriarch for all of us, his children, his family, and the people who believed in him. I can answer like this. Do you know who Kent Blazy is? He’s the guy who wrote ‘If Tomorrow Never Comes’. Kent Blazy saved my life. Because he’s the one that introduced me to this woman here [gestures towards Trisha]. Ok. So me not meeting Jim Aiken, would be the same thing as me not meeting Kent Blazy [still gesturing towards Trisha]. It’s changed my life. And it’s made me a better artist. A better musician, and a better songwriter. But what I love most about Ireland is it makes me a better person. It just does. So I can’t imagine my life without the efforts the Aiken family has made towards our family” [nodding towards Trisha].
* COMING SOON, PART 2 of our OTRT ‘In The Room’ special with GARTH BROOKS!