The confines were so cozy that Brooks took requests from the program directors, some of whom had been around since his first single, “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)” peaked at No. 8 on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles chart in 1989, right through his most recent No. 1, last fall’s “Ask Me How I Know.”
“Tell me a story of a song that you love, hopefully one of mine,” he said, leading to people sharing poignant tales about broken relationships made whole through his music or memories of departed loved ones, whose spirits came back alive through his tunes.
After the request, Brooks, the top-selling solo artist in the U.S., according to the RIAA, would often bring up his own memory of the song, including revealing that the lovers who inspired “That Summer” were hardly the May-December romance the song depicts. “I was a junior in high school, she was a senior in high school,” he said. “That was the age difference. No one died. There was no widow.”
Brooks, dressed in jeans, a t-shirt and a baseball cap, walked into the venue a little after 11 p.m. and hopped right onto the stage, playing for nearly 100 minutes. Eschewing his trademark headset mike and without a larger stage to run around, he stayed anchored in front of the mike stand, grinning broadly as the audience sang along to almost every tune. After a few songs, an audience outside, pressed up against the glass, began to gather with Brooks frequently waving to the growing outside crowd.
A little more than six weeks after ending his record-breaking three-year arena tour that sold more than 6.3 million tickets, Brooks was in great voice, especially on such tunes as “Shameless,” “Standing Outside the Fire” and “To Make You Feel My Love,” even though the audience singing along often threatened to drown out his vocals.
During sentimental ballad “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” Brooks choked up during the chorus, momentarily rendered unable to sing. After the song, which he normally plays solo in concert, concluded, he admitted the tears were brought on by hearing Bruce Bouton’s gorgeous pedal steel playing. “I haven’t heard those steel licks since I recorded the song in the ‘80s,” he said.
After a 21-song set, the crowd continued shouting out requests, chanting for his 1993 hit, “Ain’t Goin’ Down (’Til the Sun Comes Up).” “Unlike the current politicians, I hear you,” Brooks joked before launching into the rushing tongue twisting song. After the crowd serenaded him with “Happy Birthday”— Brooks turns 56 on Wednesday— he professed “This is the first time I’ve ever played on Broadway. I’m fine with it being the only time. I had the best time.”
Brooks' team picked the venue in part because Layla's had a banner up that read "Merry Christmas and thanks Garth Brooks." Intrigued, they asked the proprietor the reason for the sign. It turns out that December is traditionally a slow month for the night spot, but because of Brooks' seven shows at nearby Bridgestone Arena that spanned Dec. 9-23 and sold more than 100,000 tickets, Layla's was busier than ever in December.
Brooks next concerts will be on much bigger stages: he headlines the Houston Rodeo Feb. 27 and March 18, as well as Stagecoach on April 29.
Garth Brooks’ Set List
“Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House”
“Callin’ Baton Rouge”
“Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old”)
“To Make You Feel My Love”
“If Tomorrow Never Comes”
“The Thunder Rolls”
“Ask Me How I Know”
“The Red Strokes”
“The Beaches Of Cheyenne”
“Standing Outside The Fire”
“She’s Every Woman”
“Papa Loved Mama”
“We Shall Be Free”
“Two Pina Coladas”
“Not Counting You”
“Friends In Low Places”
“Ain’t Going Down (’Til the Sun Comes Up)”
Earlier in the evening, Brooks dropped by the Amazon party to join Jason Aldean on stage for "Friends in Low Places."