Garth Brooks, arguably the biggest country star of the 1990s, is scheduled to make a major announcement at a Nashville press conference this afternoon: that he’s coming out of retirement and looking to reclaim the top dog title for the current century.
According to sources, Brooks, who sold 70 million albums in the U.S. alone since his debut in 1989, is expected to reveal a new studio album via Sony Nashville along with a global tour of gigantic proportions.
While the music business has dramatically changed since Brooks’ heyday, he’s betting on his own fans that his popularity hasn't waned. According to touring insiders, Brooks is looking to break concert attendance records — some of which he’d previously set —when a tour launches this fall in the U.S. In order to accomplish his goal of playing to the most people possible, look for the Brooks tour to see prices at about $60-$80, more likely the latter, as compared to the hundreds of dollars for a single ticket that artists of his stature have been known to command. The trek, promoted primarily by Ben Farrell of Lon Varnell Enterprises — will then go global and may be spread over two to three years.
Last time out, Brooks shattered country touring records with an outing centered around his 1998 Capitol release "Sevens." The three-year extravaganza grossed more than $105 million (country music's first $100 million run) and drew close to 5.5 million people. Notably, Brooks charged a relatively paltry $20 per ticket when he likely could have demanded a much higher amount.
Since retiring in 2001, Brooks has made sporadic live appearances and then came halfway out of retirement by settling into a residency at the Wynn Las Vegas hotel.
Since his last large scale tour in 1998, Brooks has played at least 24 shows, including one in Los Angeles at the Forum in 2001; nine shows with his wife, Trisha Yearwood, in Kansas City, Mo., in 2007; five shows at the Staples Center in Los Angeles in 2008; and nine shows at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. The shows generated total attendance of 427,000 people and total box office of $13.25 million, according to Billboard Boxscore.
Prior to this tour announcement, Garth Brooks was also set to perform in Ireland July 25-29 at Croke Park. But people living near the concert site protested when the stay was extended from three nights to five and tickets sold out to all the shows. The latter two shows were cancelled amidst infighting in that community. According to press reports, local residents cited an ordinance that says the park can only have three concerts a year and although the Dublin city council voted in favor of allowing all five concerts to take place, the city manger refused to give grant a license for all five shows. It said two of the shows must be cancelled.
When that happened, Brooks cancelled all five shows because he didn't want any disappointed fans. In a letter to Peter Aiken, head of Aiken Promotions, Garth writes that if "there is any chance that the five planned concerts can be salvaged and nobody is being let down" they can "proceed as planned."
“I cannot begin to tell you how badly my heart is breaking right now,” he wrote in the letter. “I hope you understand that to play for 400,000 people would be a dream, but to tell 160,000 of those people that they are not welcome would be a nightmare."
“To do what the city manager suggests (play three shows and not all five) means I agree that is how people should be treated and I just can’t agree with that.”
The letter, which Garth agreed could be sent to Irish media outlets, reports that his "guys" are still en route to Ireland with the concert equipment. Reports from the U.K. say that government officials in Ireland are still trying to salvage the five-date run.
As for the new album, sources tell Billboard that Brooks was signed through Sony Music Entertainment CEO Doug Morris, and that the album will be marketed and promoted by Sony Nashville. It’s unclear if Brooks as an artist will be signed to the label and if Sony will get ownership of the record. Worth noting: Brooks owns all of his records, thanks to a deal he signed with EMI in the late ’90s to get him to re-up with its Nashville label. That agreement expired in 2005. Upon exiting the contract, Brooks set up his own label, Pearl Records, and cut a deal to be exclusively sold by Walmart. His first release under that partnership, the four-CD/one-DVD "Limited Series” sold one million units in its first week.
Another big question mark: Will he go back to doing exclusives with Walmart, or could we see a two-pronged approach, with Brooks finally breaking his boycott of iTunes and other digital music services, whom he fought for mandating that album tracks be made available a la carte? Word around the industry is that iTunes still refuses to back down. Whether Brooks is finally willing to capitulate, or if he'll allow streaming of his music, should be clearer after the press conference.
Sony Nashville would not comment for this story.