A Rodeo in Croke Park – The Garth Brooks Experience

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After I attended the penultimate Garth Brooks gig in Croke Park; the fourth out of five, I posted a photo on Instagram and my friend in Sydney, Australia replied saying ‘ I am shocked by how many of my friends in Ireland are outing themselves as Garth Brooks fans every night!’

She is not wrong. I went ‘for the craic’ and left a fully indoctrinated Garth Brooks fan.

As we all know, a planning ‘snafu’ back in 2014 resulted in Garth pulling out of a set of concerts, something which greatly upset his fans- if not the nation! Well, that unpleasant business is now ancient history.

Before we even arrived on Hill 16, the energy was electric. All around Drumcondra, up Foster Ave and onto the pitch we got swept along in a sea of enthusiastic anticipation. Accents from every corner of Ireland were represented.  I bought my obligatory Stetson off a street trader who was making hay while the sun shone and joined the throngs of other wearers.

During the countdown to the gig, huge screens projected a Queen concert, the vast stadium was bathed in light and a camera (all of Garth’s Croke Park concerts are being filmed), swung, somewhat dramatically over the audience.

When the moment arrived (on the dot of 8 pm), the man himself ran onto the stage. He literally ran. Across the stage and back, out towards the audience. Decked out in boot-cut wrangler jeans, shiny black boots and a Stetson, Garth was showing us how he may have lost that recent 50lb. This was an energetic entrance. Stopping under a huge ‘G’ sign he greeted the crowd, passionately and sincerely telling ‘Ireland’ how much he loves us, before delving into a slew of hits. ‘All Day Long’ followed ‘Shameless’, and by the time he reached the 1990 hit ‘Friends in Low Places,’ the crowd was in ecstasy. I don’t know if you can refer to a country song as a ‘banger’ but if you can, then ‘Friends in Low Places,’ is a banger.

He saved his emotional songs for the latter half of the night. I have long believed ‘The Dance’ to be a beautiful song. Melodic and poignant. Clearly, other people do too; we were surrounded by couples swaying in one another’s arms. When he sang ‘Unanswered Prayers’ a man to my left, built like a rugby prop had tears rolling down his cheeks.

Speaking of tears, Garth shed plenty. He wrapped himself in a tri-colour flag, then he introduced all of his band- many of who have been with him since his previous Dublin visit 25 years ago. This was a sweet moment, showing some grace and humility. His drummer stood up from behind a set of drums festooned with shamrocks.

Trisha Yearwood, a superstar in her own right and Garth’s wife of 17 years was brought on stage and they sang a powerful version of ‘Shallow’, originally by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper from the film ‘A Star is Born.’

Introducing ‘Callin’ Baton Rouge’, his favourite song to perform live, Garth shouted “This is always my favourite song. I hope somebody loves this song as much as I do,” as the fiddle started playing. After two encores, the country singer ended on an acoustic melody of songs by artists who have also performed at Croke Park. The last one was ‘American Pie,’ by Don McLean which brought the crowd back to life. Gold confetti was blasted into the air.

Heading home through the streets of Drumcondra amongst the wafting scent of fried foods from all the burger vans, we could hear strains of both American Pie and Friends in Low Places from ebullient groups sorry to end their night.

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