As the RIAA’s top-selling solo artist in U.S. history, Garth Brooks is no stranger to setting records. Now, with his three-year North American tour winding down, he is hitting another historic milestone: 6 million tickets sold.
Brooks will achieve the feat tonight (Oct. 5) as he and his band roll into Indianapolis for the first of five shows at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
No other artist has come close to hitting such numbers on a continuous North American tour, except for…wait for it… Brooks, who sold 5.35 million tickets during his 1996-1998 outing. That circuit consisted of 347 shows in 100 cities, according to his promoter Ben Farrell, who provided the numbers for both tours.
Though Brooks, 55, does not report his concert grosses to Billboard Boxscore, the highest North American tally Boxscore could find for any other artist was U2’s 2009-2011 360 tour, which sold more than 2.7 million tickets. (The 360 tour remains the highest-drawing worldwide tour ever, with 7.2 million tickets sold. Brooks’ 2014-2017 run has not gone beyond North America).
Brooks’ arena tour, which marked his return to the road after more than a decade hiatus, kicked off in Chicago in September 2014 with 11 shows at Allstate Arena. High multiples proved to be the rule on the tour, with Brooks averaging five shows and 80,000 tickets per city, surpassing his average of 3.5 shows per city and 50,000 tickets for the 1996-1998 run.
“We started this [tour] thinking if we could get 50 percent of what we did in the ‘90s, we’d be very proud,” Brooks told Billboard in a Sept. 23 interview from Sioux Falls, S.D., where he was playing nine shows spread over two weekends.
In fact, the numbers topped his last outing in every way. Of the 364 shows Brooks, along with special guest Trisha Yearwood, has played so far, he has sold more than 100,000 tickets in 20 of the 75 cities on the current tour. For his 11 shows at Minneapolis’ Target Center in November 2014, he sold 205,000 tickets, his highest mark for the tour and, as was the case in 56 cities, a ticket sales record for the venue. In many cities, Brooks has played two shows a day to meet demand.
The highlights for Brooks, who is up for his sixth Entertainer of the Year award at this year’s Country Music Assn. Awards (he holds the record at five wins and is the reigning champ) have been too many to recall, he says, but tops among them is “how much the band and the crew have stayed focused. “This is our third world tour and all three of the world tours have been three years. The middle year is such a hard thing to get through. People are missing their families and in the middle, it’s like crossing the ocean: to go forward or backward, it’s still going to take the same amount of time. There was never that lag in this group. That’s because you had the right people in the right position.”
Another highlight came in Cincinnati in January when the audience sang his current single, “Ask Me How I Know” back to him. The song, which stands at No. 13 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart this week, is his highest charting song in 10 years.
Brooks’ energetic, passionate shows have became his greatest selling point, drawing almost universally rave reviews and multiple generations. According to Ticketmaster, 48% of attendees were 10 years old or younger the last time Brooks toured in the ‘90s. The last tour took 100 cities to get to 5 million, whereas Brooks hit that mark at 60 cities this outing. “Where did those people come from? It came from the next generation,” he says. “That has nothing to do with the artist. It has everything to do with the music and lore of what the show is.”
Brooks’ ticket price, excluding fees and service charges, is around $60, with all seats the same price regardless of location at each venue. Though in many markets, every show went clean, Brooks has tried to add enough shows to sate demand and stave off scalpers. Brooks has always adhered to a low ticket price — for the 1996-1998 tour, tickets averaged $25. He says it helps that he is not a newer act with a 360-degree deal,where the label takes a share of the ticket sales. “I bet you 10-to-1 this artist is taking home more of the ticket price than other artists are taking at a cost of three times as much because of the 360 deals. I don’t think it’s the artist’s choice to have [that high] a ticket price.”
The tour will end in December in Nashville with estimates that he will sell around 6.5 million tickets by the last date. Brooks announces one city at a time, rolling out the dates about six weeks before the run starts. Coming up are Atlanta (one of the few stadium dates on the tour), Lincoln, Neb.; Tacoma, Wash.; and Spokane, Wash., with more cities to be announced before Nashville.
As the final dates approach, Brooks admits, “We’re exhausted, but this thing has gotten to a frenzied state where every time you take the stage, it’s such a freaking buzz. Every player, when those lights come up and the crowd comes up, they look fresh as daisies. I don’t think we’ve ever had more fun or sounded better.”
While the days of 3-year tours may be over — “I’m just not sure I can pound this grind like this again,” he says — Brooks already has several dates on his calendar for 2018, including the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and Stagecoach. Plus, he’s looking at heading to Australia and Europe. “I’m having the best time,” he says. “My retiring days are behind me.”