–By Sean Derrick
Country music megastar Garth Brooks kicked off his multi-year stadium tour last night with a sold-out show in Saint Louis at The Dome at America’s Center. Er, I mean The Garth Brooks Dome at America’s Center. Yes, the Dome actually renamed the venue for one day in honor of Brooks. Possibly because they set a record for the largest indoor show in Saint Louis?
The stage setup was mammoth, but minimalistic. The stage itself was simple, with a small bi-level for the drum riser set on an in-the-round style stage that was off-center in the dome. Above the stage sat four giant screens that gave fans in all directions a view of the screens. Well, save for the giant hanging speakers that, unless you were right in the line of sight for the screens you had a blocked view of the them.
Below the screens were four pillars that doubled as a cover for the wires leading up to the speakers and the screens as well as monitor enhancement. From the opening song of “The Road I’m On” they were sound meters. For “Two Pina Coladas” they morphed into the base of palm trees with the tops edging on the big screens.
The lighting was simple for the most part, just some rigging lights that were moveable and came down over the stage, but that didn’t happen until near the end of the main set, and then it was only part of it. Only for the last number did the full effect take place.
Overall, it is a much different experience than when Brooks played at Enterprise Center (at the time called Scottrade Center). Gone was the giant light dome that covered drummer Mike Palmer.
My first thought was “This is it? Not much for a huge stadium tour.” That is, until I realized that the show wasn’t about flashy gimmicks. Brooks himself even stated repeatedly that it was about the music, saying things like “We are all drawn together by the songs.” and recognizing that the fans sing along to every song, “even the new ones”.
Fans were all over the songs. From just the mention of “Cheyenne” to the first 3 notes of “Friends in Low Places” the crowd loved every bit. Though not as wild as the crowd seemed in South Bend for his TV special last year, the crowd in Saint Louis was special in its own right.
Playing in front of an announced crowd of just about 75,000, Brooks filled the stage with emotion, pride, and gratitude from the get go. He admitted fear of how the night would go and thanked the audience for quickly putting him at ease.
He quickly tore through new songs like “All Day Long” and older classics like “Rodeo” and “Much Too Young to Feel This Damn Old” to covers like the Nitty Gritty Dirt band’s “Fishin’ in the Dark”, which drew a huge response. Brooks seemed taken aback and responded that they hoped they got that on video so he could send it to the band.
Thing is, it probably was recorded. Brooks commented that A&E was filming a documentary for couples on tour and was there last night. Then he introduced his wife Trisha Yearwood who sang a couple of her songs (“Walkaway Joe” and “She’s in Love With the Boy”) with only Brooks accompanying her on guitar. (Yearwood also was going to perform a tailgate party preshow but was cancelled due to the storms that were rolling through the area.)
Brooks admitted his excitement several times. At one point he said “I’m sorry for blowing through these songs, but I’m just so freaking excited to get to play them again.”
Brooks played to the crowd and interacted with them, making the venue seem cozy at the same time as it was huge. He read signs from the audience not only in the first few rows but also in the upper deck (with some help from his team, of course). From a couple of cancer survivors to a little girl who wanted to meet Brooks for her birthday, Brooks was magnanimous and outgoing asking fans what their names were. In fact, he spent the majority of the encore, nine songs, as acoustic requests from fans holding up signs. Some of the more touching were a couple of ladies who were either currently battling cancer or in remission for 10 years. Emotions ran high, as did Brooks when he sang his favorite song “The Dance” and he chocked up a bit.
Back to the little girl, as he was signing her poster he asked her parents how she spelled her name. And he said “M-o-l-i-n-a, like the greatest baseball player on the planet. Got it.” Which drew a thunderous roar from the crowd and then a chant of “Yadi! Yadi! Yadi!” filled the stadium.
Being the first show on the tour there were the occasional sound glitches, but they were minimal and really was to be expected for a first show.
Brooks’ voice was strong as he easily performed 30 songs throughout the 2 and 1/2 hour performance.
Brooks’ band (Palmer on drums, Ty England and Gordon Kennedy on guitar, Jimmy Mattingly on fiddle, Steve McClure on steel guitar, organist Blair Masters, backing vocalists Vicki Hampton and Robert Bailey, bassist Mark Greenwood, and Dave Gant on keyboards) was solid through and through without missing a beat. They should be, as most of them have been playing with him for 20 years or more.
Brooks is loyal to his band and production crew, which makes that much more endearing in the eyes of fans who are loyal to him, and Brooks is loyal to his fans. It’s a full circle. Hence the fact that in this case big productions don’t necessarily need big productions to be successful.
Garth Brooks Setlist:
The Road I’m On
All Day Long
Two Pina Coladas
Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House (Dennis Robbins cover)
Fishin’ in the Dark (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band cover)
Papa Loved Mama
The Thunder Rolls
Ask Me How I Know
Much Too Young (to Feel This Damn Old)
The Beaches of Cheyenne
Walkaway Joe (Trisha Yearwood song) with by Trisha Yearwood, acoustic
She’s in Love With the Boy (Trisha Yearwood song) with by Trisha Yearwood, acoustic
Callin’ Baton Rouge (Oak Ridge Boys cover)
Shameless (Billy Joel cover)
Friends in Low Places
Wrapped Up in You (acoustic)
She’s Every Woman (acoustic)
To Make You Feel My Love (acoustic)
What She’s Doing Now (acoustic)
Stronger Than Me (acoustic)
The Red Strokes (acoustic)
Standing Outside the Fire