The Lefsetz Letter: Garth Brooks At The Forum

"It's nine o'clock on a Saturday"

Actually, it was sometime after eleven.

Garth Brooks could be the biggest act in America. But in today's siloed world where everything exists in its own niche, you can be unaware of this.

Until you go to a show.

Tickets are eighty bucks. And Garth keeps adding shows until everybody can get in. He's putting a dent in scalping, but not completely. And sometimes he does two shows. He can start as late as eleven thirty at night and continue until three thirty a.m. Sound like anybody you know? That's right, the Grateful Dead. At the Fillmore East. And when every show is choreographed, oftentimes imprinted on the tour laminate, you never know what you'll hear at a Garth gig.

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Other than the hits.

He plays them and everybody knows the words. The only song in which the crowd was not deafening was the new one, which Garth put the lyrics of on the big screen, so they could sing along. And he hasn't had a hit in years and his music ain't on Spotify but if you were a fan of country before the bros took over, you know them all by heart. He's the king of Wal-Mart and Amazon too. And if you're in the demo and you were inside the building…

Your head exploded.

Now this is a funny crowd. Almost evenly split between men and women. Families. Young 'uns. It looks like…America. You know, hot dogs and beer, and the flag waving too, before the right wing made patriotism a litmus test and the left wing seceded from the conversation, after bellowing at the blowhards, leaving many hard-working Americans lost in the shuffle.

I don't see these people on the Westside. Even the San Fernando Valley. And there were a few African-Americans and even more Latinos but they all live in Southern California, they all are integral parts of society, and they all remember when radio was the driver and if you won there, you won everywhere.

That era is dead. We all don't know the same songs and oftentimes we don't know more than the hits. But if you made it before the internet blew up the paradigm, you're an institution, you're part of the audience's DNA.

Now Garth is anti-charisma. He's so different from the rock and pop stars. It's not so much that he's self-deprecating, but that he's all out, fully available, he holds nothing back, he's conversational and goofy and you don't feel a barrier between you and him. It's so strange, other country acts do this too, but maybe they're just imitating him. And the more you watch him you realize this can't be an act, this has got to be the real Garth. And then you realize you've never even been to Oklahoma, maybe you're out of touch with a whole swath of Americans making up the fabric of this country. No, I'm not talking about the fictitious silent majority that Spiro Agnew and Sarah Palin can't stop talking about, but people who are just living their lives, who are not consumed by politics, who think cooking and eating and drinking and playing and raising your kids is the essence of life.

Now when Trisha Yearwood takes the stage for her bit, she shows footage of her cooking show, from the Food Network. And you notice nobody's skinny and they're eating carbs and having a good time and you wonder if you've got it wrong, lionizing the thin non-eaters. I'm not saying obesity is cool, I'm just saying so much entertainment is out of touch with the audience.

But not Garth Brooks.

So at times there are five guitarists up front.

There are three backup singers.

Garth no longer flies, but the drummer is in a cage that lifts and rotates, but does not go upside down, although I was waiting for it to, I wanted to see Tommy Lee given a run for his money.

And everybody's a long-termer. Garth is nothing but loyal. Which is strange in today's society, where everybody's looking to trade up. He goes with the guys he came with. Talks about working it out on Tuesday nights before he made it, yup, it's some of the exact same people.

And he plays to the far reaches of the arena. Running around. And he's a bundle of energy that never stops.

But the highlight is…

When he comes out for the encores.

Now you never know, he's already given it his all. Done not only "Friends In Low Places," but "The Dance." All the hits are done. You can't bitch that you didn't get your money's worth. You're applauding and you expect the lights to come back on at any minute and then…

Garth reappears.

Just him and his guitar.

And he looks out over the audience and…

He starts playing requests.

He looks at the signs and whips off the songs. Ones he hasn't played in years. Ones not even written by him! Someone asked for a Keith Whitley song!

And then there was the couple holding signs that their first date was at a Garth Brooks show and now they've seen three and they're married with a baby on the way and Garth can't help but do their song.

And it's like James Taylor. All quiet and intimate and acoustic.

But without a script, without a set-list.

And you think this is a gimmick, a set-up, but Garth goes on and on, playing more and more requests, and you start to tingle, you're experiencing a magic you can't get anywhere else, the combination of music and emotion that is the elixir of the live experience.

And then Garth picks on the guy right in front of me! Who's fifty eight and has been holding up a series of signs throughout the evening.

He wants Garth to play "Operator."

But isn't that a Jim Croce song?

It most certainly is…

"Operator, well could you help me place this call…"

Now I never saw Croce live. And I never liked "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown." But I do love "I Got A Name" and my favorite is "Operator" and how does Garth know all the words without a teleprompter? And he's so sincere, he's not oversinging, this isn't "American Idol," this is someone who lived through the era when singer-songwriters were king and he's caught in his reverie.

But then Garth starts to strum and…

It's indelible. You know the original. Which broke the act. Which was a staple of the seventies. Which begins with that acoustic figure…

"I was a little too tall
Could've used a few pounds
Tight pants, points, hardly reknown"

He's playing NIGHT MOVES! It messes you up. He lived through this too. He's been in a Chevy trying to touch the points sitting way up high. It's like all of the arena, all of your life, melted into one soft ball, like being high on drugs, only in this case it was only music.

And then…

It was nine o'clock on a Saturday.

It's a song about a piano man, but Garth is playing his guitar, and you can only stand there and beam, as you throw your arms high in the air and sing along.

We were all in the mood for a melody.

And Garth had us feelin' all right.