I have no doubt that Notre Dame’s first foray into monetizing its glorious cathedral was a success in that it got the university a ton of money. Garth Brooks has fans who, apparently, are willing to fill a stadium standing out in the rain and snow during an hour-long delay before the show. Those fans are also willing to pay money to see him. But whether the venture was a success as a show is another question.
During the hour delay at the beginning of the show, which I suspect—if the cause was announced I missed it—was due to the rain and the wind, at one point the audience was told by someone to practice doing a few variations on the wave. The purpose of this was, apparently, to create good footage that Garth Brooks’s producers could use in constructing a TV special out of the night. During the show Brooks himself directed the audience in the exact same maneuvers. The desire to make a good TV show also led Brooks to have the audience sing songs he had just played (and they had just sung along to) to create better audio tracks for his producers. At one point he interrupted the show to ask his producers what they still needed from the audience. Brooks also told the audience, in almost as many words, that he was about to play a song they wouldn’t recognize, but when he played the opening chords they should go absolutely wild so it would look good on TV.
All of this was ridiculous. Brooks’s fanbase clearly loves him, but to ask them to do all of this to make a TV show look better is an abuse of their loyalty. People go to a show to have a good time and hear the songs they like. They do not come so they can be turned into pawns of the artist who hopes to use them for his own behalf. And those more concerned about defending the sacred aura and glorious mystique of Notre Dame can say that he used that too as part of making his TV special better. Everyone involved in designing it should have known better and not gone out of their way to ruin the show.
And that was really a shame, because when Brooks was actually playing music the music was great. He and his band absolutely tore through some of his more uptempo classics—“Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House,” “Papa Loved Mama,” “The Thunder Rolls,”—and I only wish he had given more space for his band members to solo, because his band, his guitarist and fiddler especially, took some short, but impassioned and fun solos. I suppose people don’t go to see Garth Brooks to hear fiddle solos though.
The set list was mostly the hits, with a few exceptions. A cover of Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” made an appearance, in addition to a medley of Gabe Dixon’s recent “Live Again” and the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” and “Let it Be.” These latter selections Brooks described as part of his plan to educate younger listeners on his stadium tour, of which this was the first night, by playing classic songs. Whether anyone in the audience was unaware of some of the Beatles’ most famous songs was unclear to me — most people sang along to them — but they were solid covers and Brooks got wildly enthusiastic as he imitated McCartney’s hooting and hollering over the fadeout of “Hey Jude.”
After the portion of the show with the band and all the unnecessary footage-generation for the TV special, Brooks did an encore, just him and his guitar, taking song requests off signs in the audience. He played seven songs, a mix of his own and covers, and the sense of intimacy that the messing around for the TV special had completely destroyed returned. The show ended with another Seger cover, “Turn the Page,” and an abridged version of Don McLean’s “American Pie” in which he had the sense to omit most of the verses full of obscure whining and complaining. It was an odd but fitting end: Brooks spent much of his show trying to kill the music, but the people kept on singing along and enjoying themselves anyway.