Garth Brooks had extra reasons to be thankful Thanksgiving morning — five of them to be exact. When he went to sleep Wednesday night, he knew two dates for his Croke Park shows in Dublin in September 2022 were going on sale early Thursday. He woke up Nov. 25 to news that five shows — more than 400,000 tickets — had sold out at the Irish stadium.
The news was especially gratifying because in 2014 Brooks cancelled five shows after the Dublin city council agreed to only allow three concerts, per the city’s annual agreement with the local residents. Instead of canceling two shows and disappointing those fans, Brooks pulled the plug on all five, a move he later said felt like “a death in the family.”
Though promoter Aiken Promotions was holding five dates for 2022, similar to in 2014, Brooks had expressed doubt that he could sell that many seats eight years later, given that the concerts would be coming at the end of his current North American stadium outing rather than at the beginning of his 2014 comeback tour, after a 13-year hiatus from the road.
“You’re thinking you’ll be very lucky to do two shows, so I slept in,” Brooks tells Billboard. “I didn’t want to know what was going on. And we got the call at 7:30 in the morning. [Tickets] had been on sale since 3:00 our time. [Promoter] Peter [Aiken] starts talking, but Peter has this really thick Irish brogue, and I couldn’t understand. He just kept saying, “Brilliant,” everything was great. I ask him, “Do we put on shows three and four next week?” He goes,“No, no, no. We through all five already.” And man, I just hate to say this because it’s a f–king broken record — I started crying. I couldn’t believe it. And so it just really caught me by surprise. But it made me feel very good.” (If there was potential for more than five dates, Brooks says he wasn’t aware of that.)
Brooks will return to Ireland, playing his first dates there since he played two shows at Croke Park in 1997, on Sept. 9-11, and 16-17.
“What I love most about what just happened in Ireland is that it has put an upbeat ending to the stadium tour, right? We’ve got our last year here and now it is the yellow brick road heading toward Emerald city,” says Brooks, mixing references to one of his favorite movies, The Wizard of Oz, and Ireland, known as the Emerald Isle.
Brooks will resume his North American stadium tour in February or March, he says, with April 24’s date at Fayetteville, Arkansas’s Razorback Stadium going on sale Dec. 3. He expects more concerts to be announced before year’s end with a goal of around 17 dates in 2022, including the five shows postponed this year because of the pandemic. Below, he talks with Billboard about his emotional reaction to his Ireland dates selling out, and his plans for what might come after.
You’ve said cancelling the 2014 shows felt like “a death in the family.” When did the discussions begin again about bringing them back?
For the last seven years, the discussion has been going on, and for the last seven years it was simple: [My saying,] “Guys, if there’s any chance we put on anything for sale that can’t happen, I’m sorry, I’m just not going to do it to the people. I’m not going to do it to myself. I just can’t do it again.” And so it was probably March, because people started hearing me say, “Hey, this tour now has a chance to end on an unbelievably high note.”
But still, the confirmation wasn’t there — so you couldn’t say anything. The confirmation for the five shows wasn’t until probably 10 days before the [Nov. 22 Dublin] press conference. I couldn’t come over here unless all five were available again, just in case it might happen again — which I never dreamed it would.
Your mom’s roots are in Ireland, but what else explains the connection between you and the Irish audience? It’s been there since you first played Ireland in 1997.
I don’t know why it means so much to the Irish people. I don’t have a clue. My mom bragged about being Irish her whole life, and I stick out like a sore thumb over there. But for some reason, something has connected between the Irish people and Garth Brooks’ music, and I feel very fortunate for that. The reason why it means so much to me is: I’ve played there, and I wish I could put it in words, but they can name you the top selling solo artist of all time and you haven’t had a career if you haven’t played Ireland. They can call you the biggest loser on the planet and you never did anything in music, but if you played Ireland, you got to experience something amazing.
[When we played] Denver’s Mile High Stadium, it was an out-of-body experience. Every night is like that in Ireland. They know who wrote the songs, they know everything about who played on them, who sang background on them. It’s an artist’s dream to play there.
Dublin’s deputy lord mayor is asking you to call out the price gouging that’s already happening at hotels in Dublin for your dates — some hotel prices are already up 200%. Do you feel like you need to call out the price gouging?
I can just say that I hate it as much as I do ticket scalping, parking, everything. I understand supply and demand, but it’s one of those things that you try and figure out a way [to curtail it] — but I know in my time of touring, I’ve never found a way around it.
Are you filming the shows with an eye towards a TV or streaming special or a live album or DVD, like you did in 1997?
Yeah. It provides for a lot of great, great, great opportunities to put a cap on — knock on wood — what’s been a very successful stadium tour.
How is the show going to look different than the US stadium dates? You’re using the same stage, so that will be similar.
Here in the States, you try not to put too many ballads in your show. Here in the States, we run. Over there, you won’t lose them if you do a ballad or two more than you’re used to doing. For example, you don’t play Ireland without playing “If Tomorrow Never Comes” — even though here it’s 30 years old, and you’re probably not going to drop “The River” or drop “The Dance” for it. Over there, you don’t have to make that choice.
The pitch will be general admission. As you well know, the industry is rethinking general admission after Astroworld. Are you in talks with them about how do you make a GA field as safe as possible?
Every place we’ve gone, Europe has done it so right with the crushers — the big bars that keep people from pushing forward, the barricades, all that stuff. They do it really, really right over there. What you try to do [as an artist] is you try to get to as many people as you can, so no one’s sitting in one general direction where the pressure keeps [building]. So that really works good for us because we kind of spread out anyway — but we have had nothing but great memories over there, and great respect for how they handle the size crowds that they have.
We don’t know where the world’s going to be COVID-wise in September. You can’t really discuss or plan for that yet, can you?
No, not yet. You don’t know. So hopefully you’re just making the best decisions you can on when the opportunities come up to make the choices.
Is there going to be new music between now and then?
I think there has to be something new that’s done in those five nights. Last time we were in Ireland, we weren’t even through with “Tearing It Up (and Burnin’ It Down)” — and by the time the second chorus comes around, they’re already singing it with you and you see it on the film. It was crazy. So I think they enjoy new stuff as long as you play the old stuff.
Now let’s dissect each night. You have to as an entertainer believe, whether it’s true or not, someone’s going to come all five nights. We owe it to those people to make each show their own. So, yeah, we’ll be trying some some new stuff, maybe covers, maybe new material. We’ll see.
Are you going to stay in Dublin between the two weekends?
Yeah, Miss Yearwood and I have decided we’re just going to kind of wear the country out. We’re going to go see all the things we want to do in between those two weekends. Do yourself a favor and do the love of your life a favor: Hold hands and go see one of the most beautiful countries on the planet.
Is Trisha going to come out during the middle of the show like she does in the U.S.?
We’ll see. We did the Ryman shows here and she didn’t do makeup because we play it by ear. So when she did come out, they worshipped her for it and it was cool — but you never knew if she was coming out or not.
Speaking of the Ryman and your recent shows there and at the Grand Ole Opry House: You’ve talked about after the stadium tour is over doing another residency. What’s the latest with that?
Well, I had an amazing time here. I got to tell you, though, that the thing that’s really eating my gut — we’re doing the dive bar tour, and five of the seven of us [band members] are on those stages again. I would not be opposed to putting together a 45-to-60 city dive bar tour after the stadium tour. I just wouldn’t. I think it would be a blast, and I think it’d be a hell of a lot of fun. Business-wise, I think you lose money on it.
Especially the way you’re doing the dive bar dates now where tickets are all free.
I think the tickets will be given away because I like the randomness of it. Like in Oklahoma City, there were 2.4 million entries for 700 seats. Then you get in there and you realize, holy crap — because they just drew them randomly, 80 percent of the people in it were guys, right? That was really odd to me. It was like hanging out in the locker room. I like the fact of never knowing who you’re playing for, except people that really want to get in there… Having a sponsor helps you when you’re saying that tickets have to be given away.
So the dive bars may happen before any new residency?
I think [they] have to, because the thing I learned about a residency with Steve Wynn [during Brooks’ 2009-2014 Las Vegas solo residency] was the reasons why residencies work is because you’re not doing anything else. There’s only one place this guy is going to be on this planet this night, and it should be special. [With] the residencies, they’re pouring out the money pretty pretty good, so you want your partner to at least break even on the entertainment side.