Along with Trisha Yearwood, the country superstar delivered hit after hit in the first of six straight Grand Rapids shows. West Michigan country singer Kari Lynch offers up her take on the much-anticipated concert by one of her biggest influences. (Review, photo gallery)
EDITOR’S NOTE: With country star Garth Brooks making his first Grand Rapids appearance on Thursday night — part of a six-show run at Van Andel Arena — Local Spins asked local country singer Kari Lynch to interview the superstar artist and recap the much-anticipated opening concert. Lynch, who launched her career here and has since relocated to Nashville, considers Brooks her biggest musical influence. Here’s her exclusive report, with Local Spins photos by Eric Stoike.
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When Garth Brooks, the No. 1-selling solo artist in U.S. history, stepped onto the stage at Van Andel Arena on Thursday for the first time ever to kick off a six-show weekend run, he was ready to rock the rafters for his devoted West Michigan fans.
“I know it’s the first night,” he yelled, “but I’m gonna ask the sound guys to crank this one up.”
So, for nearly three hours, the legendary country artist turned it up and reeled off hit after hit while 11,000 enthusiastic fans stood and cheered nonstop.
The show jolted into gear with the high-energy title track, “Man Against Machine” from Brooks’ latest album, and he kept the train of beloved country songs rolling, promising the crowd he and the band would be playing “the hits” as he segued into classic crowd pleasers, “Rodeo” and “Workin’ on a Full House.”
Then, like a perfect roller coaster, he brought it down to an acoustic feel for his huge hit and my personal favorite, “The River.” That had the entire crowd echoing the lyrics and lighting up their phones to create a display of glowing lights across the arena while Brooks implored, “Light em’ up, yeah, light em’ up!”
MAKING FOLKS LATE FOR WORK AND LOVING EVERY MINUTE OF IT
The rambunctious crowd was more than ready to welcome Brooks to Grand Rapids and he clearly loved every minute of it, jumping and pumping his fists into the air throughout the night and egging on the crowd to match his energy level.
“Y’all keep this up,” he said, “and I’m gonna make some of you late for work tomorrow, I can guarantee it!”
It wasn’t hard to see why Brooks is country music’s reigning king of arena shows.
His electrifying personality, endless energy on stage, passionate appreciation for his fans and ability to immediately capture the crowd with a single lyric or strum of his guitar is remarkable and astoundingly natural.
It was easy to forget that the 54-year-old took any time off from touring at all as he ran across the stage, dangled from the drum cage and jumped between the different stage platforms throughout performances of songs, “Callin’ Baton Rouge” and “Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up).” He claimed these were some of his “favorite songs to perform live” as he grabbed the stage cameras and turned the focus toward the crowd, letting them see themselves on the big screen while they sang along.
He even took the time to snatch a lucky fan’s phone for an onstage video and picture opportunity, making it impossible for the audience not to appreciate his gusto.
Brooks’ wife and celebrated country artist Trisha Yearwood made her entrance halfway through the show for ther tender duet, “In Another’s Eyes” which again sent the crowd into a roar.
She remained on stage to sing a few more of her hit singles, catching couples in the room on a “kiss cam” during the popular, “She’s In Love With the Boy.”
Yearwood also had the entire room singing together for “X’s and O’s” and “How Do I Live,” which were also solid reminders of why she’s been awarded female vocalist of the year awards throughout her career, as her still powerful and pristine voice billowed throughout the arena.
THANKING FANS AND FINDING A NEW HOME IN GRAND RAPIDS
After Yearwood’s set, a lively Brooks returned to the stage to kick things back up with his uninhibited version of Billy Joel’s “Shameless” and the fan favorites, “The Thunder Rolls,” “Unanswered Prayers” and “Friends in Low Places.” Afterward, he thanked fans again for their passion, devotion to his music and energy to help keep him going stating, “You’ve treated each of these songs like it is your favorite. Thank you.”
For this reviewer, it was an extra special night. Brooks is my musical hero and has been the most influential artist to me and my career as a country artist and songwriter. He’s the person who inspired me to start writing songs and performing when I was barely 7 years old. I’ve watched and learned from his career and I’ve been inspired by his music my entire life. So, getting to partake in his live show and watch the master at work is extra special for me.
Perhaps most inspiring is the respect and gratitude he has for his fans and the way he includes them in every aspect of his show, always making sure they know that they are in the driver’s seat.
“We’re the boss until we hit the stage,” he said during an afternoon press conference at the arena. “Afterward, they’re the boss.”
No one performs like Brooks. No one.
I’ve never seen anyone captivate and connect with an audience the way he does through an entire show. He makes every single person in the room feel like they’re sitting in the front row and continually lets them all know that they have a say in the direction of the show.
He proved this again near the end of Thursday’s concert during what he called the “housekeeping” segment, breaking it down to a solo acoustic approach. He searched the crowd for signs requesting certain songs and performed them on the spot, sharing an intimate moment with them while working in the lesser-known album cut, “In Lonesome Dove” and the popular, “To Make You Feel My Love”.
Brooks has mastered the art of making an arena of strangers feel like they’re in it together, like they’re all old friends getting together to partake in a celebration of music and connect through the memories and nostalgia invoked by each timeless tune.
So near the end of his first-ever Grand Rapids show, Brooks couldn’t help but state the obvious.
“Grand Rapids, my heart has found a new home,” he gushed. “I should’ve come here a lot sooner!”
Welcome home, Garth, and you’re welcome back anytime.
Tickets are still available for all five remaining concerts by Brooks at Van Andel Arena, though the 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday shows were nearly sold out as of Friday morning. Concerts are 7 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Friday, 7 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Saturday, and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Get tickets and details online here.
PHOTO GALLERY: Garth Brooks at Van Andel Arena
Photos by Eric Stoike
Copyright 2016, Spins on Music LLC