20 Years is a Long Time!

It’s coming up 20 years since the last time I saw Garth Brooks live and in person. But I’m still shocked that it’s been 26 years since I saw him the first time. The other day I discovered that Garth Brooks “Double Live 25th Anniversary Edition” was streaming on Amazon Prime Music. I have to tell you I was stoked. It made me happy. I could listen to Garth at my desk at work!!! Then as the day progressed, I remembered so much about my first Garth Brooks concert, and now, today I remembered more about my last Garth concert. The first was 26 years ago. I was 15 years old I didn’t know anything about music. But I knew what I liked. I liked, no, I loved Garth. At this point, no one knew about the show that he put on. And in this instance he wasn’t even a headliner. He was a supporting act for the Judd’s on their first farewell tour. I want to say some other big act were playing the show too. I really didn’t care about anyone but Garth. No Fences had been number one on the charts for weeks and Ropin the Wind was just about come out.

I knew I wanted to go see Garth in concert and it just happened to be something me and my dad and my brother had in common. So the plan was set, we would go see Garth at the Shoreline Amphitheatre. The Shoreline was cool. There were seats and the pit, but the general admission area was the grass. Up there you seemed like you were a million miles from the stage, but the gigantic video screens made up for the distance. From up there you could see the entire clamshell that was the Shoreline. I’m still trying to remember who opened the show. But Garth was the second act. It was the Judds Farewell Tour, and not a month earlier Garth was added to the ticket. In what would become a usual occurrence Garth stole the show. Even with all those people there, not many of them knew more than Friends in Low Places. And not a one of them knew there was a third “special” verse. But me and my 6 year old brother knew it. While people around us mumbled along me and my brother sang it out loud.

“Hey, I didn’t mean
To cause a big scene
Just wait till I finish this glass
And sweet little lady
I’ll head back to the bar
And you can kiss my A — !”

There was an unmistakable energy it was there every time he performed. Later when he came out with his TV special you realized that we were all special. That show he performed for us was the same show he put out on TV. You realized that he gave it everything he had, every night he went out there. I loved it because it affected me so much in a positive way. That was who I wanted to be. That person that gave it everything he had every time he went out to work. He had this playful exuberance that really showed everything he was from his tenderness in the way his voice broke at the end of “The Dance” to his wild (for country music) rendition of Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right.” Some people say that what he did was just an act, and I think they were right, he acted like himself. He is a big ol’ goofball that just wants people to have fun at his shows.

Back then we didn’t have CMT we lived in Daly City just south of San Francisco, no one we knew had CMT. We had two country radio stations, the ‘Old Country” on AM and the “New Country” on FM. Back then we we didn’t realize it, but Garth was what guys like Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell are now. He was around but people didn’t realize what kind of impact they would have. Here was a guy that no one knew, a pudgy little dude from Oklahoma that took more than one try to get big in Nashville and years to get a record deal. The Dance was known, it was a typical country ballad it tugged at your heartstrings and brought tears to your eyes. But the No Fences came out and demolished everything. It stayed at #1 for 22 weeks. The Thunder Rolls and Friends in Low Places two decidedly different songs bookended the singles and showed the kind of range Garth would have and still does have. Both having fun and making social commentary. Needless to say we had no idea what we were in for and neither did the rest of the world.

I have to tell you that night in 1991 cemented how I felt about Garth Brooks. It was a memory that I cherish because it was a night I never wanted to end. It was probably one of the few times in my teens that I will admit to being happy. In my heart I knew things weren’t right at home. In time everything came out and my dad left to go do drugs and eventually find his way home. It took some time but he did find his way home, but even then that road wasn’t easy, I didn’t make it easy, and there were times I wanted to jump out of the car along the way. But that night at that first Garth show, I held onto that night and I still to. Every time I listen to Garth’s Double Live album I am reminded of that night.

“Looking back on the memory of
The dance we share beneath the stars above
For a moment all the world was right
How could I have known you’d ever say goodbye”

They say there are no happy endings, but in this case there was. August 31, 1997, my father, my brother and me got to see Garth one more time. 6 years on and after some years of hell we could sit together and enjoy the night. This time we were closer to the stage we were almost at eye level with it and could see Garth without the need of a big screen. I remembered that so clearly, Garth had lights in the risers on stage that blinded us every once in a while. It was something to see that show with him.

While my dad had fallen off the wagon a couple of times in sobriety he really did try to stay clean and sober. This night, these chicks that sat behind us had gotten careless and spilled their drinks on us. And while I was old enough to drink, I didn’t out of respect for my dad. But those girls spilling those drinks almost ruined a good night. My dad had apologized for all the things he did, for all the ways he hurt us. He felt like those girls spilling those drinks would get him in trouble with my mom. I really don’t remember that happening, I should ask my mom one day. When I think about it, I probably would not have remembered that date except it was the night Princess Diana died. As we sat in the parking lot listening to a mixtape of Garth Brooks we could hear and see people reacting to the news of her death.

“Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers
Remember when you’re talkin’ to the man upstairs
That just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care
Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers”

I can still tell you that my dad’s favorite Garth song was The River. But that night as Garth sang Unanswered Prayers I saw my dad tear up, he could see that I saw it too. Later that night after my brother had passed out in the back seat while we were stuck in traffic, my dad opened up to me, probably for the last time, now that I think about it. He told me that, WE his family were his unanswered prayer. So many times in life even before the drugs and rehab, he had prayed and asked God to let it be okay for things to end for him. While he never tried to end things, he admitted there were times he asked God to not wake him the next day. During his rehab and detox, it wouldn’t have been a surprise if he didn’t wake up and he told me that. While his heart wasn’t good, even with congestive heart failure, and an irregular heart beat he still fought every day. My Daddy always put up a good front, people told him he couldn’t do things and he always rose to the challenge. So to hear him say he wanted to give up was a shock. But to hear him say we were his unanswered prayer, it still brings me to tears every time I hear that song. That he could fight his way back, and regret a prayer like that, it was a good hurt.

A little more than three months later my dad would die. It hurt but I feel like even with all the issues we had, with all of the things we said we found closure that night, it was a night of joy death and rebirth. And that is what I hear every time I play Double Live from Garth Brooks. That is what I see each time I get to watch Garth perform. Now watching the 50th annual Country Music Association Awards it was great to see Garth win Entertainer of the year. And even watching that I thought of my dad. After they announced his name, before going on stage to accept the award, he went and hugged each of the nominees that were in the audience with him. It was a classy move that my dad would have seen and appreciated, just like I did.

“You know I dream is like a river
Everchangin as it flows
And the dreamers just a vessel
That must follow where it goes
Trying to learn from what’s behind you
Never knowing what’s in store
Makes each day a constant battle
To stay between the shores”
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