Brooks's last world tour came in 2003, but he didn’t venture this way then. In fact, the last time the country singer serenaded the Triangle was during a two-night session at the Dean Dome in 1998. Back then, there was no Wikipedia, no easy way to learn that Garth Brooks’ first name is actually Troyal (!) or that he signed with the New York Mets for a stint in the late nineties.
Since he had just gotten off a plane, Brooks didn’t know that Bernie Sanders was in town today, even though his three-night series at the PNC Arena and Sanders’ rally—for which folks began lining up at three in the morning—will likely be the city’s biggest traffic disruptors until the fall's State Fair.
But he did know how to use Periscope, the video-streaming site that allows users to route a live feed from their phones. A collection of fifteen reporters, plus five television crews with a militia of cameras, watched on their own phones as Brooks broadcast himself taking the elevator from the green room to the press room. “This is so exciting!” one woman said, her eyes boring into her device while the real Brooks stood only feet away.
When he arrived, the singer turned his own phone around so that his subscribers (fifty thousand of them, I later learned) could see little old us. Some watched themselves live from Brooks’ phone on their own phones. Others waved. I took a picture.
A few hours after the Periscope experience—and after a much longer 13-year break to see his three daughters through high school—Brooks would make his first-ever headlining appearance in Raleigh tonight, his second Saturday, third Sunday. It’s the fourth leg of a massive North American tour, which he and fellow country singer (and wife) Trisha Yearwood have been on since June 2014. Brooks and Yearwood are expected to tour through 2017 before adding dates in Europe, Australia, and South America. Go big and, eventually, go home, I suppose.
Brooks arrived in a black T-shirt and blue baseball cap, sunglasses flipped upside down upon the brim. Yearwood looked youthful in dark jeans and shimmering gold high-tops, which she told me her stylist had found in New York. The pair touched often, holding an embrace before a mass of local news cameras descended for the requisite one-on-one interviews. Brooks’s go-to answer for how-are-ya? “I’m Mr. Yearwood, so I’m doing great.”
I listened to Garth Brooks as much as any Southern youngster who grew up in the nineties and feel a nostalgic attachment to his music. I learned about adultery when my mom adopted “The Thunder Rolls” as a way to heal from a straying lover, and G105’s weekend bumper of “Two Piña Coladas” bored its way into my young brain. But for a small press conference in a sterile meeting room, I wasn’t expecting such a strangely emotional experience.
A question about James Taylor made Brooks cry, and he continued to get misty-eyed throughout the Q&A. When Brooks talked about the first concert he ever attended without supervision, and to which he took his first date, he had to stop to dry his eyes.
“I was thirteen rows away from Freddie Mercury, standing in my chair,” he said. “I was screaming, but I couldn’t hear myself, because the music was so loud. That’s what it’s all about.” Then, he whispered one word: "Fantastic."
When I asked him about endurance training for long stretches of touring, Brooks stopped the conference to ask me about running marathons. He lifted his shirt and offered his soft belly as proof that marathon running was outside of his league. He was inspired enough by the idea to look toward the heavens and issue a heartfelt "Amen."
When I asked Brooks about politics and messages within modern country music, he called the genre “pretty stable, pretty set” in its ways, but referenced Colin Powell and the notion that it’s alright to get in heated debate, as long as we respect one another (and, in the case of the presidency, the position of power) in the end.
“I’ve been at this for a long time, so I don’t have a problem saying that we should love one another,” he told me toward the end of the interview, leaning in close enough that I could make out the pattern of his chin stubble and the texture of his slate-blue eyes.
“There are hurdles put down here between us just to cause trouble," he continued. "The big question is, why are we here? It’s the simplest answer on the planet: We’re here for each other. That’s why there’s more than one of us.”
When Garth Brooks went on tour in the booming nineties, there was no wave of cell-phone photography to greet him from the other side of the stage. There was no Taylor Swift, so Brooks was the pop-country crossover master who pissed off the most purists. There was no President Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton was the First Lady, not a presidential candidate. There was no Great Dixie Chicks Controversy, where radio DJs dropped the group like a hot potato after Natalie Maines announced she was ashamed of George Bush’s Texas heritage. Back then, industry moguls didn’t debate whether or not being dropped from radio play still mattered. Of course it did.