Garth Brooks has ‘Friends in Low Places’ in Newark

Newark is the last Northeastern stop on the Garth Brooks World Tour with Trisha Yearwood

I tried. I really did. But I couldn’t NOT sing along. It was the second (of three nights), I thought I had pulled my vocal chords during the first show. But, as if by some country music magic, the lights went down, and my throat stopped aching. My energy came back, and it was like last night all over again. It didn’t matter that I was here just 24 hours ago. It was time for round two.

I’m talking about the weekend stop by The Garth Brooks World Tour with Trisha Yearwood in Newark, New Jersey. The first concert on Friday, December 1st kicked off a three-show run at the Prudential Center. This is the last stop on this tour for northeastern fans. Fans, Garth acknowledged on Friday, that get a bad rap when it comes to country music.

“But I’ll tell you what, they’re full of shit,” Garth said of critics who question whether or not the north knows our country music. At that, he launched into the “hidden” (his words) third verse of “Friends in Low Places.” New Yorkers, Jersians, Pennsylvanians, and more sang it right back, as if collectively telling those critics to, well, “kiss my ass.”

Whether it was the old stuff, like “Rodeo,” “That Summer,” or “Shameless,” or the newly-minted No. 1 single, “Ask Me How I Know,” the Jersey crowd could have been mistaken for any audience better associated with a love for cowboy songs. On the latter, Brooks offers an unneeded build-up about the fears of playing new music. The opening acoustic-with-muscle lick is already as identifiable as the four string strum starter to “Friends” or the haunting piano trill on “The Dance.” And the crowd responded in kind. On Sunday night, “Ask Me How I Know” songwriter and tour opening act Mitch Rossell was given the opportunity to take center stage and play his song in a duet with Brooks.

The second night proved to be even more raucous than the first. He played for merely two hours and twenty minutes Friday, compared to a staggering three hour long show on Saturday. This is thanks to the inclusion of hits, “Beaches of Cheyenne” and “Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up),” two songs missing from Friday’s main set. Plus, on Saturday, Brooks brought forward Robert Bailey to sing the cultural mainstay, “Shout,” which Bailey performed in the iconic movie Animal House. Brooks also performed a 17 song encore, taking care of fan requests.

Garth’s genuine nature and charisma combine with a very rare thing: Garth does not sing to the audience. He sings with them. That is what makes him different from all other entertainers, sold more than six million tickets this tour, and earned him more CMA Entertainer of the Year trophies than any other artist in history. You cannot help but sing along. He demands it.

Somehow, the third night topped both Friday and Saturday, despite a technical glitch. The Prudential Center experienced a blackout as Rossell took the stage to open. A rep for the arena called it a “brief outage,” but would not elaborate on the cause and said they were working closely with their energy partner to analyze the incident.

During his set Brooks noted that, “The greatest tool an artist has is surprise. But for you guys to come here and surprise me is something I never expected.” Yet, that surprise is always mutual. Everything and everyone is fair game. Whether that’s upgrading a fan to the front row mid-show, or the drummer diving into the audience to hug a fan, there is always something at a Garth show that reminds you how each individual is touched by the artist and the music.

No Garth Brooks concert is complete without Trisha Yearwood. While Yearwood may have been his opener in the past-in fact the very first opener Brooks ever had-she now has a rightful place smack in the middle of the main set. If Garth Brooks sings with the crowd, Trisha Yearwood sings to them. This dichotomy is why they have worked so well together for 25+ years. Garth often jokes with the media that the band “starches up” when she comes on stage. And for good reason. Her music is less party, more heart. But both her and Brooks share a love for the perfectly-crafted story song. This was most evident in their harmonies on “Whiskey to Whine,” performed at Saturday’s encore.

But even Brooks and Yearwood will tell you that the show comes secondary to the people. The friendships, bonds, and memories formed at these concerts are what make each run so special. On Saturday alone, I met a couple who were celebrating their 29th wedding anniversary; a mother-daughter duo, the daughter had heard tales of these mythic concerts growing up, but had never been; and I even had the chance to catch up with some friends made through Garth music (hi, Harriet!)

“Housekeeping,” the portion of the encore where Brooks takes care of fan requests, has become an iconic part of this tour, and the signs have taken on a life of their own. During Saturday’s show, Brooks noticed a sign for “Somewhere Other Than the Night.” With a famously long memory, he said he recognized that sign from other concerts. He apologized for “never playing” the song, and indulged the request. Trisha Yearwood, too, acknowledged signs for “The Power of Love” (which she teased the band does not know), and obliged a request for “Wrong Side of Memphis” during her set. It brought the house down. At Sunday’s encore, the full band joined in on No Fences album cut “Wild Horses.”

The request-taking is just one example of how the music and the people come together at a Garth show. I have been reporting on Garth for 3 years now, and still have yet to attach words to what is an intangibly enjoyable experience. It could be I’m biased-I am where I am today in large part because of his music.

But I think it’s something more. The result of a lore that has developed over time. A lore that, not unlike what happened with Elvis, will continue to grow Brooks’ larger-than-life stature as time goes on. Especially, as this tour wraps up, and these memories made become stories and myths to the legions of fans that have yet to witness a performance. But hopefully, we won’t have to wait 15 years for more.

Author’s Note: A very special thanks to Team Garth, who went above and beyond in accommodating an eager and nagging reporter. You make reporting on his work as much of a joy as the concerts themselves. Thank you again.

Matt Bailey
Matt Bailey

Matt Bailey is podcast producer and writer located in the Northeast. Since 2013, Bailey has produced more than 160 episodes of his own online radio show, Talk For Two. In 2016 alone, he interviewed Kevin Bacon, Crystal Gayle, Bob Barker, and Gilbert Gottfried, among several other stars. As a Correspondent for The Music Universe, his focus is Broadway, country music and concert reviews.