Garth Brooks’s concert Thursday (Nov. 18) at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville was billed as “an intimate evening” with the superstar — and with just an acoustic guitar, no band, and a lengthy list of iconic songs, Brooks certainly lived up to the promise. The acoustic show was in some ways reminiscent of his previous residency at Encore Las Vegas, which ran from 2009 through 2013. Early on in the evening, Brooks noted that once his stadium tour ends next year, he has thought about doing a residency “just like this.”
At one moment soon after making his way onto the austere Opry House stage, Brooks gestured to the center stage circle of wood that was taken from the Grand Ole Opry’s former home at the Ryman Auditorium and installed when the Opry House opened in 1974—calling it “the same floorboards that the greatest of all have stood on.” From there, he offered a snippet of “Three Wooden Crosses,” which Randy Travis turned into a hit in 2002.
Throughout the evening, Brooks mixed his own hits such as “Two of a Kind, Working on a Full House” and “Rodeo” with songs from artists who have had the greatest influence on him, weaving music and stories into an overall story arc of his journey from dive bars in Oklahoma, to becoming a music superstar and unparalleled entertainer, to being honored by some of those musical influences: George Strait, James Taylor and Bob Seger.
“I was raised on Haggard and Jones, Charley Pride, Tammy Wynette,” Brooks recalled of his early childhood, noting he later folded in influence from George Strait and Keith Whitley, before offering up a snippet of Whitley’s “When You Say Nothing At All” and later, Strait’s “Unwound.”
The Opry House show was the first of three Nashville performances this weekend, ahead of two upcoming Ryman Auditorium shows.
Brooks recalled that one of his early career goals was to have his song “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)” recorded by Strait. Instead, the song became Brooks’s first Billboard hit in 1989. But when Brooks was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2012, Strait surprised him by singing the song. Taylor and Seger were also on hand for Brooks’s CMHoF induction, with Taylor performing “The River” and Seger performing “That Summer.”
He went on to perform Seger’s “Turn The Page,” crafting a through-line from the D minor chords in the Seger classic to one of his own dramatic hits. He kept strumming that D minor chord, teasing the crowd by saying, “To a kid from Oklahoma, doesn’t that sound like storm clouds?” and segueing into “The Thunder Rolls.”
He would also play Taylor’s “Carolina in My Mind,” Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” and Seger’s “Against The Wind,” but also newcomer Ashley McBryde’s breakthrough “Girl Goin’ Nowhere.”
“You think about Strait and Seger and you put them together…you get cowboy music with muscle in it,” before launching into his own 1996 hit “The Beaches of Cheyenne.”
One of the pillars on which Brooks has built his career is his talent and charisma as an entertainer. He has a well-known knack for making arenas and stadium shows feel intimate, and in an already intimate venue, it felt more like a laidback (Opry) House party than a concert venue. One fan from Austin requested “We Shall Be Free,” while later in the evening, it was revealed another fan was battling cancer. Brooks obliged a request for the Tony Arata-penned song “Anonymous,” and opted to sing it a cappella.
Throughout the evening, performing song after song sans backing band, the simple acoustic accompaniment and the room’s stellar acoustics allowed Brooks’s often underrated talent as a vocalist to shine.
“What could make this evening even better?” Brooks mused at one point during the concert, as the crowd shouted their requests for Brooks’s fellow music star and wife Trisha Yearwood to join him onstage. Yearwood obliged, and audience members gave Yearwood a warm standing ovation before she’d even sung a note.
“I feel like I’m the plus one right now,” Brooks joked, before asking, “Are you man enough to take requests?”
“If you are man enough to play them,” Yearwood quipped right back.
Brooks himself got in the first request, as Yearwood performed “Walkaway Joe.” Yearwood and Brooks have been married since 2005, but have been singing together for years, having first met thanks to songwriter Kent Blazy (a recent Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee), who paired them together to sing on a studio session before either Yearwood or Brooks had a hit single. On Thursday night, that history was felt in their tight-knit vocal synergy, as they performed their rendition of “Shallow,” (with some glorious higher register notes from Yearwood), followed by the Jones/Wynette hit “Golden Ring” and a collaboration from Brooks’s Gunslinger album, “Whiskey to Wine.” Yearwood completed her set with her signature debut hit from 1991, “She’s in Love With The Boy.”
Of course, Brooks let fans handle some of the vocal responsibilities as well, bringing them to their feet during what he deemed the “sing-along” portion of the show, with renditions of David Allan Coe’s “You Never Even Called Me By My Name,” Don McLean’s “American Pie” and Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.”
“It’s a damn good crowd for a Thursday,” Brooks sang at one point, as the crowd instantly cheered. He marveled at how one of his own hits, his signature “Friends in Low Places,” has also joined that rare collective of songs that are the barroom favorites, the karaoke classics and party songs that bring people together. He attempted to close the show with “Friends in Low Places,” though the audience drew him back onstage with a thunderous standing ovation.
Brooks sailed through “The Red Strokes,” before making the most of standing in the revered Opry circle by performing a few more of his favorite songs, including the Jones classic “The Grand Tour” and Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried.” He closed out the evening with songs including the Bill Withers classic “Ain’t No Sunshine” and a simple, powerful rendition of “The Dance.”
“Be kind to each other. Thanks for the best night ever,” Brooks said, turning and waving to each section of the Opry House audience before exiting the stage.