It’s somewhat of a dramatic statement, but nobody in country music has revolutionized the live performance quite like Garth Brooks. There were others before him – Hank Williams, Jr. and Ricky Skaggs come to mind – that brought high energy to their stage shows, and Keith Urban also is in a class of his own, but Garth Brooks was a game-changer in the way we think of Country stars on tour.
His new five-disc collection, The Anthology Part III Live, is a reminder of just what makes Brooks so unforgettable. First of all, there’s the music. He – and producer Allen Reynolds – were masterful in collecting a group of songs that people could identify with. That’s the first step. Without the fan interest, you would have nothing. But, hit singles such as “If Tomorrow Never Comes” and “The Thunder Rolls” kindled a passion from listeners – who started coming out to see Brooks as he opened for artists such as The Judds, Kenny Rogers, and Ricky Van Shelton. Then, in the fall of 1990, a song called “Friends In Low Places” broke his career wide open. Before too much longer, the Oklahoma native was fronting his own shows – with an energy level that the genre had rarely seen before.
That adrenaline can be heard throughout this five disc set. The first two chapters are a commemorative edition of his landmark album Double Live – which stands as the biggest-selling concert album in Country Music – if not all formats – history. Celebrating its’ twentieth year of release, the album’s magical moments include such Brooks classics as “Two Of A Kind, Workin’ On A Full House,” “Longneck Bottle,” “Rodeo,” and “It’s Your Song.”
The final three discs contain footage that was compiled from Brooks’ landmark 2015-2017 comeback tour. The stint proved once again what a magical hold that Brooks has on an audience. Much of the output features crowd sing-a-longs on such fan favorites as “Friends In Low Places” (which comes ‘complete’ with the famed ‘third verse’ of the song), “Unanswered Prayers,” and “Two Pina Coladas.” There are also a few nuggets from that might surprise listeners, such as his takes on “Fishin’ In The Dark” and “The Fireman.” He also tips the hat to newcomer Ashley McBryde with a stirring version of her “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” by changing the title to “Guy Goin’ Nowhere,” and a duet performance on the underrated gem “Whiskey To Wine” with wife Trisha Yearwood that there aren’t enough superlatives to fully appreciate. Trust us, it’s simply that good.
Along with the music there’s a gorgeous 256-page book that shows the growth Brooks has made as a recording artist and a live performer. The book begins with a nostalgic look back at his 1997 Central Park concert in New York City – a night that still stands as one of his benchmark achievements. From there, the reader is taken back in time to the beginnings of Brooks’ performing career. Garth talks about being hired by Opryland to perform at the former musical amusement park – complete with the 1981 contract that was sent to him – only have the job nixed by his parents in lieu of his going to college. As it turned out, Oklahoma State proved to be great for Brooks – in more ways than one. In addition to getting his education, he would meet Ty England and Brian Petree – who would help him sharpen his musical focus. There are many stories about his days playing in Santa Fe, a local band around town that made more people aware of Brooks and his budding talents.
From there, Brooks’ story heats up considerably. A meeting with future manager Bob Doyle led to Brooks’ playing at the heralded Nashville songwriters’ haven The Bluebird Café. Soon his star was on the rise, eventually landing a recording deal with Capitol Records. The book contains many of the highlights from Brooks’ first touring phase – his early stints opening for artists – such as The Judds’ historic 1991 “Farewell” concert to his seminal 1992 NBC TV-special filmed at Reunion Arena in Dallas. Suddenly, Brooks was selling tickets – and albums – at a breakneck pace, and the stages only got bigger for the singer. He returned to the city for another special for the Peacock network – this time at Texas Stadium. Brooks shares details of the accident that could have halted the show – but in the end, the night was another dose of electricity that only the singer could provide – including a performance of “Ain’t Goin’ Down Till’ The Sun Comes Up” that featured the singer rise into the stratosphere at the former home of the Dallas Cowboys.
Also detailed is his 1997 venture into foreign soil – again, a resounding success. The performer made stops in cities such as Dublin, Munich, and Glasgow seem just like playing for fans in Atlanta or Tulsa, proving that music can be a universal uniting factor.
Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood on the Red Carpet at The 52nd Annual CMA Awards, on Wednesday, November 14, 2018 in Downtown Nashville. Photo courtesy of CMA
And, at the end of the day, that’s what sets Garth Brooks apart. Sure, there are stories of him selling out five shows in twenty minutes, the incredible sales numbers, all of which have added to sheer magnitude of the star he has become. But, it’s what he has managed to do with a pen and paper that has endeared him to fans around the world. The songs on this collection matter to people, and when he performs them live, that connection between artist and audience runs very deep – whether it’s a one-on-one meeting or a show in front of tens of thousands. Accessibility. That’s the magic of Garth Brooks, which is in full evidence on this collection!