There aren’t a lot of musicians these days that can sell out arenas.
But as of last fall, and coming out of “retirement,” Garth Brooks proves that he’s still a major force in the music industry with huge concert venues selling out in mere minutes. I saw that first-hand last week in Denver where my wife and I attended day two of nine sold-out concerts at the 20,000-plus-seat Pepsi Center. Nine concerts at the Pepsi is roughly half of Colorado Springs showing up!
Now, I’m sure Swift could pack out one night, maybe two, possibly three. But I have my doubts she could commandeer nine. The guy sitting next to me told me he drove in from Nebraska. Another man told me a friend of his was driving up from Albuquerque. Yes, there’s something about the Brooks phenomenon that has allowed it to span nearly three decades…and it continues. So, what are we to make of it?
I’ll start with this bit of self-disclosure. Generally speaking I don’t get caught up in celebrity. I know they’re all human, like the rest of us, and they all have feet of clay. But I have to confess, I have a warm spot in my heart for Garth.
Last Wednesday, Brooks held a press conference as part of the grand opening of the Child Life Zone (a place where hospitalized teens can hang out) at Children’s Hospital Colorado. The hospital lobby area was utter pandemonium, and the emcee kept referring to this grand opening as a “pep rally,” which I certainly found accurate. In fact, cheerleaders from a Denver high school were on hand to teach the crowd a line dance with help from mascots of two Denver-area professional sports teams. (I refrained; I tend to move my right foot when everyone else is moving their left!)
But Brooks was nowhere to be seen. Where was the guest of honor? Privately I was told that he was visiting very sick children in their hospital rooms. Once Brooks did arrive for the pep rally, he was not in any hurry to speak to us press folks. Instead, he walked down a long hospital corridor, hugging the “healthier” of the sick children—those that were able to leave their rooms and gather in the lobby. In addition, he allowed countless of these often very sick kids to take selfies with him, and he autographed any piece of paper they thrust in his direction. It reminded me of what I’ve seen on TV with Pope Francis, and of course what we read in the Scriptures concerning Jesus (except the taking selfies part). I didn’t get the impression that he was doing any of this for the cameras: He was doing it because he cared.
When this musical superstar finally made it to the actual Child Life Zone being dedicated to spend time with us, the gathered press, someone asked what he’d learned about being a stay-at-home dad. I doubt his answer ended up in the papers or on the local news that evening, but it struck me as powerful. He replied that he’d learned that “You can lead your children to the Lord and teach them manners. …”
Now, I don’t know where Brooks is coming from spiritually. But talking about the importance of “leading [his] children to the Lord” was not what I was expecting, especially at a pre-concert press conference. I’m aware that Brooks brings God and faith into several of his songs. For instance, he’s right at home speaking the praises of a homeless man who shares the Gospel on the streets (“Fit For a King”), the power of “Unanswered Prayer,” and the confidence of God seeing us through hard times (“The River”). But leading children to the Lord goes a significant step beyond singing about “the Man Upstairs.” I appreciated the fact he’d use his platform to mention it.
Another thing about Brooks impressed me that day. There were approximately 20 of us from the press there. We were invited to ask questions corporately and afterwards privately. For the former, Brooks asked us to state our name, who we were with, and then our question. Later in my private time with him, he right off the bat said, “You’re Bob, right?” I was floored. This was some 20 minutes after I had stated my name and first question in the corporate setting. How did he remember? More importantly, why? I only wish I was half as good as Brooks at remembering names.
Now, I would be remiss if this blog sent Brooks and non-Brooks fans to their local record store to buy his CDs without pointing out the fact that his music is a mixed bag. Brooks, like many country singers, has a boatload of positive tunes that can encourage and inspire, but he’s got a number that are disappointing at best and troublesome at worst. For instance, he sang the extra verse of “The Thunder Rolls” during the concert that has a woman murdering her cheating husband. He also sang two tunes I absolutely despise: “That Summer” glamorizing a teenage boy (in first person) being seduced by an older women, and “Two Pina Coladas” which Jimmy Buffet-style applauds intoxication as a way of escape.
Still, more than ever now that I’ve met him, talked to him, listened to him and watched him, I’m convinced there’s a lot to like about Troyal Garth Brooks. And as I’ve done for years, I’ll welcome his songs that meet the Christ-honoring standard that I live by, while hitting the “skip” button (or thumbs down if I’m on Pandora) for the tunes that are less than stellar.
And something else, too. I’ve just added Garth’s name to my prayer journal. Plus, I’m now praying that I’ll be a bit more like him in ways that genuinely matter.