The last time Garth Brooks played in New York City, he took his final bow in front of an estimated nearly one million people in Central Park. Dubbed “Garthstock,” the Aug. 7, 1997 free event is the largest concert to have ever been played at the site (having surpassed Paul Simon’s 1991 previous record of 600,000 fans). The show was filmed for an HBO special, Garth: Live From Central Park, which was then nominated for six Emmys, taking home the Academy of Country Music’s Special Achievement Award. Returning to the region, then, was understandably daunting. So he didn’t for nearly 19 years.
That streak ended Friday night when the superstar kicked off a two-night stand at Yankee Stadium. In 1997, Brooks was the biggest country star on the planet: he had three albums that had sold 10 million-plus copies each (he would release his fourth diamond-certified album just three months following the Central Park set), two world tours under his belt, and an unholy smattering of No.1 songs in the genre. The dirt has since shifted beneath his boots. In 2000 he retired from recording and touring to focus on raising his children in his home state of Oklahoma. And when he returned in 2014 with his ninth studio album, Man Against Machine, and plans for a massive global trek, the country music climate was very different than the one he left.
The album landed with little more than a thud, and is generally considered a commercial disappointment. It debuted at No.4 on the Billboard 200 and has sold just under 700,000 units to date. And it’s highest charting single, “People Loving People,” topped out at No.19 on the format radio charts. But any concern that the evening would skew toward feeling like a legacy act evaporated immediately. Over the course of two hours and two encores — and flanked by an LED light display as wide as the home of the New York Yankees would allow — the 54-year-old was as good, and energetic, as ever. And when he announced that a new album would arrive in the fall, the news was met by a deafening roar that promised people are as excited for what’s next as what’s already been.
“I don’t know what you think you’re in for tonight,” he greeted his crowd after ripping through his cheeky 1991 single “Rodeo” early on, “but I’m tellin’ ya, welcome to the party!” He added, “I hope you came to sing, because that’s what we’re gonna do all night.” And Brooks and his band made good on his promise, playing hit after hit — and fans fulfilled his hope, throats ripping with delight and abandon.
From “That Summer” to “The River” to “The Thunder Rolls” to “Papa Loved Mama,” and straight into the main set closing pair of “Friends In Low Places” and “The Dance,” he gave the crowd exactly what they wanted. Everything. Moments of enormous production, stripped-back acoustic numbers, a duet with wife and tourmate Trisha Yearwood (who takes over for three songs mid-set), a handful of classic covers — Billy Joel (“Shameless,” “Piano Man”), Bob Dylan (“Make You Feel My Love”), and the Oak Ridge Boys (“Callin’ Baton Rouge”) all worked their way into his routine, while Yearwood accented her time with Linda Ronstadt’s “When Will I Be Loved?” — and even three rounds of the wave, around the stadium.
But between the piña colada’s and friends in low places (which was brought to new, dramatic heights when it began raining as the opening chords were struck), Brooks used his signature headset mic to address the recent tragedy in Dallas, which left five police officers dead. Flanked by longtime guitarist Johnny Garcia in an NYPD baseball cap, he said people had been asking him for a statement regarding the shooting. “We have the same statement [as for] what happened in Orlando down in Florida, or what happened over in Paris at a concert,” he said. “People, we’ve got to love one another. That’s what it’s all about. That’s our only hope.” He then dedicated “People Loving People” to the Texas city.
Yearwood echoed the sentiment during her time behind the mic. “Thank you, New York!” she yelled after conducting one of the loudest sing-alongs of the evening with “She’s In Love With The Boy,” off her 1991 debut. “Love one another!” And in that moment, as the voices of old fans, new fans, casual fans, and obsessive fans flowed together, it felt like we just might.
Check out the full set-list, below:
Intro: “Star-Spangled Banner”
“Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)”
“Two Piña Coladas”
“People Loving People”
“The Thunder Rolls”
“Papa Loved Mama”
Duet with Trisha Yearwood: “In Another’s Eyes”
Trisha Yearwood: “When Will I Be Loved?” (Linda Ronstadt cover)
Trisha Yearwood: “How Do I Live”
Trisha Yearwood: “She’s in Love With the Boy”
“Shameless” (Billy Joel cover)
“Callin’ Baton Rouge” (The Oak Ridge Boys cover)
“Friends In Low Places”
“Standing Outside the Fire”
“She’s Every Woman”
“Make You Feel My Love” (Bob Dylan cover)
“Wrapped Up in You”
“Piano Man” (Billy Joel cover)