Could a new song from Garth Brooks foreshadow a more intimate concert tour?
Yesterday (Tues, June 19th) was a big day for fans of the No. 1 selling solo artist in American history, Garth Brooks. Not one, but two new songs were released to fans who digitally pre-ordered Brooks’ upcoming 11th studio album. They include the new radio single “All Day Long” and a thank you to fans, called “The Road I’m On.”
Brooks has also announced that a new tour is on the horizon. Details of that tour — or at least the very first batch of dates — is expected to be announced on July 9th. This means fans have from now until then to speculate on what is so career-shattering for Brooks about this tour, as he has gone on record as saying it’s the biggest thing he’s ever done on the road.
But what if his biggest undertaking is some of the smallest venues? That is, what if this tour sees him play intimate theaters across the US and around the world? This is purely conjecture, but it’s not without its merit and some evidence to back up the idea that Brooks may scale down his operation on this next trek.
First, let me contextualize the hypothesis. Garth Brooks famously played for four years at the 1,490-seat Wynn Encore Theatre in Las Vegas. At the conclusion of his run of acoustic music-time-capsule shows, he brought his band to the theater to bridge the gap between the residency and the then-impending tour.
During the 2014-2017 tour, the acoustic “housekeeping/house cleaning” section became the most talked-about and anticipated part of a Brooks show. This section was most reminiscent of — and often a direct throwback to — his shows at the Wynn. Any fan who attended more than one arena show will tell you those last 45 minutes were where the heart and soul of the concert rested.
Brooks has also become very transparent about the high cost of taking the full-on arena tour overseas, a reality that must have hit him somewhere along the line during his North American trek, as those comments run counter to his hopes in 2014 that the tour could visit the U.K. and Australia. Perhaps scaling back production, keeping his band and back-up singers intact, and focusing on the storytelling present in his Vegas show is the solution to this riddle.
Of course, we have no concrete corroborating evidence or comment from his team. However, in his true cheeky fashion, Brooks may be alluding to a smaller tour in one of the songs he released yesterday. Brooks himself has said that “The Road I’m On” will be the show opener for the new tour. It’s a smaller, breezier song that does not scream arena country rock.
But a deeper listen to the lyrics reveals a message of gratitude to the fans for taking him “from honky-tonks to the big stage,” while swearing that he “played them the same way.” He nods to his fans directly, saying “all of the places and all of the faces that made me who I am,” while ending the chorus noting that he is blessed to have been on this road of a career. Could these lyrics foreshadow a return to those faces and those places? I am predicting a theater tour to the kinds of venues that his wife, Trisha Yearwood, favors. Intimate and small, yet large enough for 3-5,000 people.
I know, I know. You are probably thinking, “But the demand will skyrocket!! He’ll never be able to play a theater without upsetting fans who can’t get tickets.” I say not so fast. When Brooks left arena touring in the late 90’s, he spent the next 15 years teasing and promising his return to a full-scale road show. The savvy advertiser that he is, Brooks built up unprecedented demand for a concert experience that became the stuff of lore over nearly two decades. When he returned with the promise of bringing his old music and style, people needed to see his live arena show. It is now four years later and that particular demand is satisfied.
From a commercial standpoint, I think Brooks has room to breathe now. I believe he’ll still do multiple dates in any particular venue. But we’re not looking at a situation going forward where 200,000 people are clamoring for tickets in any one city. A majority of those people, “Came, saw, and went,” as the saying goes. Yet even in an arena amongst 20,000 people, intimacy has always been Brooks’ goal. Now he can do something for the hardcore fans. That would be something more stripped-down in more intimate, Wynn-like settings across the country.
It is not uncommon for stars to shun the high-octane “freak show” (as Brooks calls it) in favor of a more personal evening. Travis Tritt has been touring an acoustic concert for the last few years. This past Spring, ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic and his band toured smaller venues with a concert that focused on Yankovic’s lesser-known originals. Yankovic’s diehard fans had been asking for such a show for years. Finally, The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, has set a record as demand for his one man Springsteen on Broadway show at the Walter Kerr Theatre had been extended shortly after launching last fall. The run has earned Springsteen his first-ever Tony Award.
Only time will tell if this prediction was right. Perhaps yours truly feels emboldened by the fact that I predicted Garth’s Newark shows two months before they were announced purely by looking at which shows had been announced as “final concerts” for that particular region. But it is fun to make connections and play along with an artist famous for leaving cookie crumbs for his fans to chase after. Wherever this is headed, we are thrilled to be on this Road with Brooks as he gears up for yet another tour.