Garth Brooks Addresses Recent Violence, Promises New Music at Yankee Stadium Show

Garth Brooks performs at Yankee Stadium
Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Garth Brooks performs at Yankee Stadium on July 8, 2016 in New York City. 

“He even likes being booed!” said this writer’s mother incredulously, as Garth Brooks was booed by Yankee Stadium during his long-awaited return to New York on Friday night. 

The crowd’s angst was in jest -- a response to Brooks threatening to withhold the third verse to his best-known track "Friends In Low Places" -- but his enthusiasm was appeared entirely genuine. Of course he performed the third verse ("You can kiss -- my -- aaaaaass!"), in what had become a torrential downpour just in time for the raucous single, as he did with all his biggest hits -- giving the people what they wanted, with the kind of gratitude and energy you’d expect from someone taking the stage for the first time.

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In a sense, Brooks was reliving his long-ago life as an amateur playing saloons in Oklahoma during Friday night's show. Not only was the concert his first in New York in nearly two decades, it was all of country music as a genre's first in Yankee Stadium -- a fact that he expressed awe at about a dozen times.

"I'm always scared to death to come into this town, because I worry that just being myself isn't going to be enough," he told the tens of thousands of people gathered to see him, ahead of tens of thousands more who would join the following night. But though he professed to be nervous his performance walked the thin line between polish and finesse with relative ease, buoyed by a band of people who’ve been with him for 20 years as well as (of course) his iconic voice.

That voice, still almost freakishly smooth, carried the audience through two hours of classics from the rip-roaring opener "Ain’t Going Down (‘Til The Sun Comes Up)" to the sing-a-long closer acoustic rendition of Billy Joel's "Piano Man." To a degree, the entire concert felt like glorified audience karaoke, as two jumbotrons ran the lyrics of every song in case twenty years of practice weren’t enough. Garth was game, encouraging audience participation and expressing the kind of ecstasy about it normally reserved for places more intimate than a stadium.

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"Tell me it's gonna be like this all night long," he said early on, leaning back and clutching his chest in gratitude -- a sentimental moment only topped when his wife Trisha Yearwood brought down the house with three songs that left the crowd wanting much more and ended with a sweet kiss. 

The night's most evocative moments, though, came at the close when Brooks reemerged alone with a guitar in hand to perform "She's Every Woman" and "Make You Feel My Love," the Bob Dylan/Billy Joel cover he owned while Adele (who covered it on her album 19) was still in elementary school. In this moment Brooks miraculously captivated the stadium with just his voice and guitar, and seemingly could have kept the crowd spellbound for hours.

Given the many tragedies of the week, Brooks knew that he would be expected to comment -- to say something soothing, in the vein of so many of his songs. He steered clear of specifics, though.

"It's the same statement as with what happened in Orlando or Paris," he said early on. "We've got to love one another, that's what it's all about." He held up a heart and proceeded to play his only 2010s-era song of the night, 2014's "People Loving People."

Surprising the crowd by promising new music in the fall, Brooks nevertheless ran through nothing but the hits until his shirt was soaked through with rain and sweat. 

"Thanks for treating me like one of you," he said as he walked offstage. "Let's enjoy our differences and realize they are our strengths.”

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