By: Derek Jung
When you're the number one top selling country artist of all time, you can pretty much do whatever the hell you want. So when Garth Brooks announced that he was retiring from recording and touring in 2001 to focus on his family, no one could do anything about it. Even so, he continued to sell millions of albums and fans were eager to hear any news of his return to music. In 2009 he teased fans with a residency in Las Vagas to test the waters of returning to full time touring, and in the Fall of 2014 he began his official comeback tour. Fast forward another two plus years and Brooks and his longtime backing band made their triumphant return to Cincinnati. Saturday night was the opening night of a five night, two weekend slot at US Bank Arena, and the band sounded in mid-tour mode. Probably because they were.
The hype machine for Garth Brooks is pretty legendary in terms of drumming up excitement, support, and (of course) ticket sales. His comeback tour was already on track to surpass the record for highest grossing tour of all time (currently held by U2) when the shows were announced in Cincinnati. Local news outlets had a field day, and the coverage only grew in intensity as shows started selling out. New dates were added and the number of shows in town quickly grew to five, the same number of nights that he played nearly two decades ago. That level of artist loyalty is incredible, but the band definitely made it sound like Cincinnati's five nights were special, something certainly outside the norm, and communicated in such a way to make Cincinnati fans feel like they were more dedicated than other cities. A cursory glance at their tour schedule, however, proves quite the opposite. Most tour stops include anywhere between four and seven shows, and some cities doubled showtimes on the same day. Even Columbus, Ohio has six shows of their own. This kind of fan ego stroking by the band rubs me the wrong way, but boy oh boy did the Cincinnati crowd eat it up.
The format of the show was a bit odd. There were two unannounced openers that performed three or four songs. After each finished, an advertisement for their new album was projected and announced for the crowd. These were very safe, stereotypical pop country artists, and for someone familiar with the music industry, it felt very much like a pitch from the industry to hype up a few new artists on the label. Hard pass on that one, folks.
Garth and his band came on stage to one of the loudest roars from a crowd that I have ever heard. I had to put in earplugs, not because the band was too loud, but because the crowd was overpowering. Garth ate up that energy and ripped into a greatest hits type setlist, with only a few songs from his new album, Gunslinger. The crowd knew every word to nearly every song, and many times Garth would chuckle to himself or comment "wow" when seemingly the entire arena belted the songs in unison word for word. It was truly a sight to behold, but I expect Brooks' amazement was more showmanship than real, because I'm sure every city sounds exactly like we did. Unless he thought Cincinnati was going to be terrible. Which, to be fair, we sometimes are.
The band was a perfect example of what to do with an open stage. I really enjoyed how band members moved all around the stage. Every angle got a great view at some point, and they mixed it up just enough to keep things entertaining. My seat was towards the backside of the stage, and I felt like they were great seats. I got to sit down close, and had a fantastic perspective of the band performing to the larger portion of the audience on the front side of the stage. They were also a good example of how crowd hyping can be too much for a band. Every single member spent time in between songs pointing at people in the crowd, yelling, and fist pumping or gesturing to make more noise. The drummer would even come out of his little ball and wave a towel around. Yes, I get that energy is important, but it felt more like cheerleaders at a sports game than professional musicians at a show. And when it's done nearly every song, it gets old and worn out quickly. To be fair I feel the same way when bands have hypemen, but having it come from actual band members just felt excessive.
Some would argue that all of my complaints here are very nitpicky, and they most certainly are. But I would counter that Garth Brooks is one of the biggest artists of the last half century and should be held to a higher standard than most performers of lesser stature and reputation. All of these complaints aside, the show was phenomenal, the energy and passion exceeded my expectations and I would definitely see him again if the opportunity arose. Garth is still the king of pop country and there's no one even close.
Who are we?
Derek Jung and Joseph Kathmann -- Just two ordinary (debatable) guys that love talking about music. You can read more about us here: