Garth Brooks Wows Nashville at First of Nine Benefit Concerts

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Oklahoma: Garth Brooks. With U.S. sales of 68.6 million, the Tulsa native and Oklahoma State University grad (advertising major, FYI) is the best-selling album artist in SoundScan's 21-year history.

If Garth Brooks intended to pace himself at the first of nine sold out shows at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena, that plan changed when he hit the stage for the 7PM Thursday night (Dec. 16) concert. From the moment he hit the stage, serving up the one-two punch of "Rodeo" and "Papa Loved Mama," Brooks made it clear he was there to give fans everything they'd been missing since he retired from touring to raise his three daughters.

"Thanks for letting us come home to the great state of Tennessee and play our music," Brooks told the crowd after the first number. The show marked Brooks' first arena concert in Nashville since 1998, and the crowd remained on its feet during the entire show.

After performing "The Beaches of Cheyenne" to thunderous applause, Brooks told the audience "I have missed you guys so much!"

Proceeds from all nine shows are going to Nashville's flood relief efforts and Brooks expressed his appreciation for attendees coming out to support the worthy cause. "You have done your job and done it very well," he said. "Now it's our turn."

He continued with the rollicking "Two of a Kind, Workin' On a Full House" then segued into his very first hit single, "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)" before delivering a scorching cover of Billy Joel's "Shameless," which Brooks covered on his "Ropin' the Wind" album. His band exited the stage and Brooks, armed with a guitar, led the crowd in an acoustic version of the powerful ballad "Unanswered Prayers."

The band rejoined Brooks for the socially conscious anthem "We Shall Be Free," followed by "The Thunder Rolls." He welcomed singer/songwriter/guitar virtuoso Steve Wariner to the stage and twosome delivered the rowdy honky tonker "Longneck Bottle" before Brooks graciously surrendered the spotlight to Wariner, who sang his hit "Some Fools Never Learn." Brooks had raved at a pre-show press conference about Wariner being one of his musical heroes. Before leaving the stage, Wariner sang back up on "Calling Baton Rouge."

Brooks then reached back to his fourth studio album, The Chase, and served up his 1993 hit "That Summer" as the audience enthusiastically sang along. In one of the evening's many highlights, Brooks welcomed to the stage his Grammy-winning wife Trisha Yearwood. Looking sleek in jeans and a black sweater with sheer sleeves, Yearwood joined Brooks on their hit duet "In Another's Eyes" as the crowd cheered. "I love you and I love our life at home, but we've got to get ourselves one of these," he said gesturing toward the audience with a big smile.

Yearwood sounded amazing as she performed her debut hit, the 1991 No. 1 single "She's in Love with the Boy" and the crowd enthusiastically sang along. She then backed Brooks as he performed the chart-topping "More Than A Memory."

Throughout the evening, Brooks had introduced and praised his band and back up singers. Karyn Rochelle, one of a trio of fine voices backing Brooks, had also opened the show with a spirited four-song set. A North Carolina native, Rochelle is one of Nashville's most respected songwriters. Her credits include Kellie Pickler's "Don't You Know You're Beautiful" and "I Wonder" as well several tunes for Yearwood including "Georgia Rain" and "This is Me You're Talking To." Rochelle did an admirable job as an opening act, revealing an engaging voice and winning stage presence.

But of course, it was Brooks night. He sailed through the evening, delivering hit after hit, and the crowd had been eagerly anticipating a rowdy version of his smash "Friends in Low Places" and the Oklahoma born entertainer didn't disappoint. Crew members came out and launched confetti into the audience and the crowd went nuts. One would have thought it was his '90s heyday not more than a decade since he'd had a Nashville arena audience on their feet. Rarely have an entertainer and an audience shown such genuine appreciation for each other. As he finished the poignant ballad "The Dance," he told the fans "I was expecting what I remembered, but it was never THIS good."

He took his bows and exited the stage, but reappeared to encore with a blistering version of "Ain't Goin' Down (Til the Sun Comes Up)." He left the stage at 9:20 leaving the Bridgestone crew less than an hour to usher the sold out crowd from the building and let in the audience for his second show at 10pm.

Brooks will continue his Music City reign with one show per night Dec. 17, 19, 20 and then two shows each evening on Dec. 21 and 22. All tickets are sold out and his efforts have raised more than 3.5 million for flood relief efforts.

When Brooks' daughters are grown and he chooses to return to the stage on a regular basis, his first night in Music City proved the fans are still their waiting to sing every word to every hit, and he's lost none of the magic that made him a superstar.