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Garth Brooks shares Detroit memories before Ford Field concert
On Saturday night, Feb. 22, Garth Brooks will perform in front of more than 70,000 people at Detroit's Ford Field -- the largest concert crowd ever at the home of the Lions.
On Friday afternoon, just before a sound check for the show, the country superstar -- who's sold more than 170 million albums worldwide and has 19 No. 1 country singles -- met with a small group of media in the stadium's bowels. Dressed in black and fresh off an event with Lions coach Matt Patricia for Teammates For Kids, a foundation for student athletes, Brooks stood in front of a video screen bearing his rotating small "g" logo and conducted a broad discussion that included his new in-the-round concert stage, his upcoming new album "Fun" and the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song that he'll receive March 4 from the Library of Congress.
Brooks, 58, also made it clear that he loves him some Detroit -- and has since 1989, when he was one of the lower-bill acts at the Downtown Hoedown and started a relationship that's included multi-night stands at the Palace of Auburn Hills and Joe Louis Arena.
A few of the top takeaways from the session included...
• That first Hoedown appearance is still a fond memory for Brooks. "That night, very special for me. We opened that night 'cause we were new, but...I sat across the hotel from outside the window and saw George Jones perform that night. That's it for me, man. He's my guy. (Merle) Haggard's the greatest ever, Jones is the greatest voice every for me. So that was a big night."
• Brooks was happy, therefore, to return last summer to make a special surprise appearance at the Hoedown that included a 15-minute medley of some of his biggest hits. "We thought it was fun to do it, and everybody was really sweet. You walk out with just a guitar (and) kinda played about the same amount of time...except this time they kind of knew the worlds to all your stuff, so that made it a lot of fun. So you went through the list and they knew them very well, as Detroit does, so that was fun. If I have as much fun (Saturday) night as I did then, I'm gonna be a real happy camper."
• And Brooks is confident that will be the case, in fact. "Being this far north Detroit sometimes gets a bad rap of, 'Well, they don't know country music up there.' This place has always been a safe haven for us -- I don't know why, either, 'cause I don't blend, but everybody treats us so sweet so we're really looking forward to this. I don't want to jinx myself, but with a Detroit crowd you start a song, they take it. When they're done you start the next one, they take it. It's the easiest gig on the planet, so that's what I'm hoping. I'm hoping they came her to sing, that's all."
• Brooks is a fan of Detroit music, too, from Motown to Bob Seger and beyond. "It's everything. It also explains to me why your people...(are) so educated in their music, because it's passionate around here. This is where a lot of music is born. You guys can look at me and think exactly what I'm thinking -- square white guy (slaps his belly) straight out of the middle of Oklahoma, but the music that was born in this town affected my town so much...that it then shaped my life and my music. So as square and white as I might appear, all those roots of all the music that was created here is in our stuff as well...and maybe that's why this town has been so sweet to me."
• Brooks also remembered an incident at his May 8, 1996 show at the Palace, the first of a five-night run that taught him a lot about Detroit audiences. "I'm sitting there...and something comes out of the crowd and I don't see it 'til late and I'm thinking, 'Oh, this is not gonna be good' and it hits me right here and I catch it and it folds out and it's a Red Wings journey. So (the arena) goes through the roof and I'm like, 'This is gonna be stupid fun...' We tell everybody, 'You come to Detroit, bring your helmet. They're just passionate about their stuff, man."
• Brooks said to expect the unexpected at Saturday's show, too. "We're gonna try to stay away from the stuff you think we're gonna do, 'cause that's entertainment. We do what you think we're gonna do here everywhere else. My job is to yank your ass left and right and take you on a roller coaster ride, 'cause when it's over you don't know what's gonna come next, but whatever comes next, it's perfect. During the show you learn a lot, so this band and crew...they're locked into me 'cause they know I'll yank the set list out from under their feet in a heartbeat (and) go somewhere else 'cause the crowd's calling for it. They know they better be ready."
• That philosophy puts the odds against a Bob Seger cover, which Brooks has been known to throw into his shows on occasion. "Yeah, it's too obvious here. That's what I was trying to say to everybody -- what you think's gonna happen probably won't. But if I do my job right it'll be exactly what's supposed to happen."
• Brooks is looking forward to rolling out his new stage -- which is flat and lower to the ground and, unusually, doesn't have any risers. "In the round's fun because...you can tell people come in thinking, 'I'm behind the stage,' and then they see you come out of the hole and you're this far from them looking right at you, you can just see (the surprise) in their face. When it starts like that, you know you're gonna have a great night all night long, 'cause...every row is a front row. I think it's gonna be like eating two bowls of ice cream instead of just one. This is gonna be fun."
• As for the "Fun" album, Brooks has already released three singles --"All Day Long," "Stronger Than Me" and his current single "Dive Bar" with Blake Shelton -- and anticipate putting out another couple before the album hits in summer or fall. He's due to deliver the album March 1.
• As for the Gershwin Prize, which will be filmed and televised on March 29 on PBS, Brooks called it "very flattering, very humbling, very sweet...An award's only as good as the names on it," Brooks added, "and if you look at the names on that one" -- including Motown's Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson as well as Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, Carole King, Willie Nelson, Burt Bacharach and Hal David and others -- "that's pretty cool."
Garth Brooks and Chase Rice perform at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22, at Ford Field, 200 Brush St., Detroit. Tickets are sold out; 313-262-2000 or fordfield.com.
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