Garth Brooks Shares All of His Secrets During Ryman Auditorium Concert
A set list for Garth Brooks' second-straight show at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville would do little to describe the the experience. It was a free-wheeling mix of originals, covers, requests and storytelling. Best of all, it seems likely he'll repeat it soon.
Toward the end of the two-and-a-half hour acoustic show, Brooks admitted he's "looking into" a residency of some sort at the Ryman, all but admitting these back-to-back appearances (plus Thursday's show at the Grand Ole Opry) were something of a soft opening. Those who saw the Country Music Hall of Famer in Las Vegas a decade ago might recognize the format, but everything is sharper in 2021.
On Saturday night (Nov. 20), Brooks quite intentionally worked through a career that began nearly 40 years ago at "Wild" Willie's Saloon in Stillwater, Okla., showing how his influences laid down the chords for some of his most famous songs. A published account of this storytelling could be a how-to manual for country hitmaking: Begin by learning basic chords like "Cowboy D," start covering your favorite songs, perform them enthusiastically and then create unique variants that you perform with equal enthusiasm. From there, resist the temptation to reinvent these cover songs.
Bob Seger is a great example. It's well known how much Brooks appreciates Michigan's favorite rocker, but on stage, the country singer drew a clear line from Seger's "Night Moves" to his "That Summer," a song he admits was inspired by his own older girlfriend in high school. He was a junior, she a senior (in high school, not citizen), but it was a very good summer nonetheless.
George Strait and James Taylor were similarly seminal artists in Brooks' life, and with ease, he showed how. After covering "Carolina on My Mind," Taylor's most famous song, he picked up "Lo and Behold," an acoustic melody that begins with soft strumming before getting a little — as Brooks called it — dirty. Listen to "Rodeo" immediately after this song and you'll hear Taylor's influence.
Elsewhere, Jim Croce laid the groundwork for "Unanswered Prayers." The Oak Ridge Boys made room for "Callin' Baton Rouge." Great singalong songs from Billy Joel and Don McLean inspired Brooks to record one of his own. Even though fans knew "Friends in Low Places" was looming large at this moment in the show, they didn't disappoint him with their response. Brooks walked off the stage afterward, but with furious pounding on the Ryman's wooden pews beckoning him back, he returned and played for another 30 minutes.
For a variety of reasons (COVID-19 and the rehearsal nature of the show), the Ryman Auditorium wasn't packed to capacity. Cell phones were vigorously prohibited by ushers and security, and the audience was actually encouraged by the performer to sit down throughout the night. Everyone got a killer quad workout.
The patient nature of Brooks' fans is remarkable. No one shouts for "The Dance" or "Friends in Low Places" ahead of time, and collectively they pick him up during more "obscure" songs. There aren't many country contemporaries that can weave Dan Fogleberg songs into a show and not push patrons to the bathroom or bar, but Brooks does. This contrasts legends like Alan Jackson, who during his Oct. 2021 show in Nashville drew a fascinating mix of longtime fans that remain seated until the last song and punch-drunk 20-somethings that peak too early, and chant "U.S.A., U.S.A." after "Where Were You." Both shows were exciting in their own ways, but you wouldn't anticipate such differences between two artist that came up in the '90s playing traditional country music.
Here is an incomplete list of the other artists Brooks covered (and lauded) on Saturday night: Randy Travis, Ketih Whitley, Elton John, Merle Haggard, Johnny Paycheck, Conway Twitty George Jones, Lady Gaga, Lee Brice (who wrote "More Than a Memory," a surprise standout moment from this show) and of course, Trisha Yearwood.
The queen joined him for an extended set of duets ("Shallow" among them) and her own hits, plus songs like "Golden Ring" as recorded by Jones and Tammy Wynette. Their chemistry was particularly tangible on this stage, with Brooks doing his best to make his wife blush.
"Of the Top 10 things that woman does, cooking and singing are No. 6 and seven," he revealed, drawing applause and hollers from an audience familiar with his adulation for her.
The prospect of a residency is fascinating, because this kind of show would seem to require the kind of stamina that frightens entertainers. Brooks' unbridled enthusiasm for being on stage in front of his fans really makes it impossible for him to have a bad show. There's no reason to not come away entertained.
"I'm the only one I'm going to entertain all night," he said at the beginning of the show. The fans know that's not true, and realistically he does too, but dang if it isn't believable.