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Garth Brooks -- the old dog is back and still a big dog in country music
When Garth Brooks was "retired" from the music world between 2001-09, to spend time raising his then-young daughters, what he missed most was a sense of purpose.
Before the hiatus, Brooks explains, "I knew what my job was. My job was eating Taco Bell at three in the morning, sleeping in late, getting up and going and starting songs...That was my luckiest job on the planet, the easiest gig on the planet. The hardest thing I found to let go of was purpose."
These days Brooks' girls are grown -- they're now 22, 20 and 18 -- and he's back. In November he released "Man Against Machine," his first album of all-new material in 13 years. He's started his own online music service (GhostTunes) to sell his music. And, after returning to performing in 2009 with a residency in Las Vegas, Brooks has returned to the road with a world tour that will play six shows during the next two weeks at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena.
"The girls...are off chasing their own dreams and I'm gonna be the guy that gets to eat Taco Bell at three in the morning and get to go tour again," Brooks, 53, says with a laugh. "I don't think any of us realize a second half of a career is not granted. I'm not saying we're gonna have one, but that's where we're gonna take it from here."
Brooks' second act is certainly off to a strong start: "Man Against Machine" debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and No. 4 on the Billboard 200, while concert ticket sales have been strong -- including more than 107,000-plus for the Detroit shows, breaking his Michigan record of 103,458 for five shows at the Palace of Auburn Hills during 1996. But even if it fizzles, Brooks' first half is certainly the stuff of legend.
The Oklahoma native -- who was part of country music's celebrated class of 1989 along with Alan Jackson, Clint Black and Travis Tritt -- has sold more than 190 million albums worldwide and is the only solo artist to sell more than 10 million copies of six different albums. He's spent more weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 than any other artist and has 18 No. 1 country singles. His trophy case includes two Grammy Awards, 12 American Music Awards, 22 Academy of Country Music prizes and nine Country Music Association awards, and he's been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and songwriters' halls of fame in both Nashville and New York.
Brooks also pushed the boundaries of usually conservative country music with songs about domestic violence ("The Thunder Rolls") and tolerance ("We Shall Be Free"), and in 1999 he took a head-scratching left turn by adopting more pop-leaning, and short-lived, alter ego Chris Gaines.
Those are considerable laurels to rest on, but Brooks' mission now is to prove he can be as potent in today's country music world.
"There's two terms that are going around right now, Bro Country and...Hick-Hop," Brooks says. "I don't think my stuff's either one of those. For me, it's Garth music. If you remember, I was the guy that wasn't the country guy in the 90s, so it feels weird to be the guy now that's (considered), 'Whoo, that's old country there.' It's kind of odd.
"But I've got to tell you, I'm ready to compete with them because competition between us only makes the product better, which makes the consumer more happy. So hopefully if you do Garth music right it's ever-evolving and it stands the test of time."
That seems to be the case according to Tim Roberts, operations manager of Detroit country station WYCD-FM. "Garth Brooks is an undeniable force in the country music world, and on the radio," Roberts notes. "One thing you learn quickly is to never underestimate his ability to draw fans and sell music...His ability to sell over 100,000 tickets for the Joe Louis shows speaks volumes about his impact with fans."
Brooks -- who married second wife and now touring partner Trisha Yearwood in 2005 and is a grandfather by his middle daughter, August -- acknowledges that impact has been made on stage as much as it has on record. "We're still in the business of entertaining," he notes. "People have never come up to me and said, 'Hey man, that F-sharp diminished chord you played in that song kills me!' But they'll come to you and go, 'I remember when you busted your ass and fell off the side of the (stage).' They remember that stuff.
"To me, that's just entertainment. That's fun. It's just mass chaos at high volume."
To that end, Brooks says his shows are "not much of a change...for someone that saw it in the 90s," though he's quick to credit his own forebears. "I get a lot of radio guys going, 'Hey, we're watching all these tours today and they stole your show," Brooks says. "And you go, 'No, if they sole my show they must have stolen Chris LeDoux's show, 'cause that's where I still it from. And Chris got it from somewhere else. That's what we do."
Brooks adds that he also "stole everything I can from Bob Seger," who helped induct him into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2012.
"Our job, whether it's Bro Country, Hick-Hop or whatever, our job is to fly the flag for country music," says Brooks, who's keeping his tour plans open-ended. "I want these people walking out of these arenas going, 'Best show I've ever seen! That thumped harder than any rap show I've ever been to. it was louder. It was more chaotic. it was just stupid. I'll put that show up against any other genre of music.
"that's what I want to hear -- all the good things, right? That`s what our job is. It's always been that way and always will for us. I don't think much is gonna change for us that way."
Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood
7 p.m. Feb. 20 and 27, 7 and 10:30 p.m. Feb. 21 and 28.
Joe Louis Arena, 19 Steve Yzerman Drive, Detroit.
Tickets are $66.
Call 313-471-6606 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.
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