The last time Garth Brooks played Ireland, Mary Robinson was President; a new national radio station called Radio Ireland (which later became Today FM) went on the air; Ronan Keating and Carrie Crowley hosted the Eurovision Song Contest; Frank McCourt won the Pulitzer Prize for Angela’s Ashes and the internet was still a relatively new concept to most of us.
Much water has passed under the bridge since 1997, but 25 years later, the country megastar continues to be a huge draw for audiences, both here and around the world. The question is, how did Troyal Garth Brooks become one of the biggest global stars country music has ever seen?
Music wasn’t always the biggest draw for young Garth, who was a talented high school athlete in his hometown of Yukon, Oklahoma. However, a degree of musicality ran in his family: his mother Colleen McElroy Carroll, herself of Irish descent, was a country singer in the 1950s. Still, he spent his late teens on a track scholarship to Oklahoma State University, worked nights as a bouncer at a local bar, and occasionally dove in and out of music with his first band, Santa Fe.
Eventually, music trumped Brooks’ athletic ambitions and he began a career in the industry in the mid-1980s, relocating to Nashville and releasing his eponymous debut in 1989 at the age of 27. It was a hit that spawned successful singles that remain staples in its setlist to this day, including If tomorrow never comes and The dance. His second album No fences followed in 1990 and established Brooks as a full-fledged star, mixing country music with rock ‘n’ roll swagger in songs like raunchy pub singalong friends in low placesand continues to show off his talent for ballads on the Winsome Unanswered prayers.
He also began to make a name for himself as a showman in the live arena, using his wireless microphone to deliver energetic, dynamic performances. A country star influenced by acts like KISS, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel? Somehow he made it. Until the mid-1990s with further albums such as turn the wind and The hunt Under his polished belt buckle, Brooks had become one of the world’s most popular solo artists.
However, it was always clear that Brooks is a man who likes to do things his own way. After the release of his sevens In 1997 and his first live album the following year, he surprised many by adopting an alter ego. His new “rock star” persona was “Chris Gaines,” a vehicle for Brooks to pursue a rockier sound away from the country music career he’d cultivated for two decades. Gaines was supposed to be a fictional character in a film with the title The Lamb (which was never made) and the album Garth Brooks in… the life of Chris Gaines, the intended soundtrack, was released in 1999. Needless to say, the public was stunned by this sudden reversal in musical style (not to mention the hair and soul stain). Although the album saw his biggest hit on the pop charts Confused from youa song later covered by both Westlife and actor Donald Glover was a certified flop.
With his ego bruised and his unfortunate foray into the world of professional baseball at the same time, Brooks announced after the release of that he was retiring from recording and touring scarecrow in 2000 and vowed not to return to the stage until his youngest daughter graduated from high school. He generally kept his promise, bar the odd benefit concert or charity event (and the trifle of a Las Vegas residency in 2009).
Meanwhile, he raised his three daughters Taylor, now 30, August, 28, and Allie, 26, with ex-wife Sandy Mahl, married compatriot Trisha Yearwood in 2005, and became grandfather to Karalynn in 2013.
Brooks’ success on home soil evidently translated internationally, and Ireland hugged the musician to their collective chest more fiercely than perhaps any other country. Line dancing’s explosion in popularity here in the mid-1990s can arguably be attributed to (or perhaps blamed for, one’s taste) Brooks’s success.
His first Irish show at Dublin’s Point Theater became the stuff of legend, while his return for a Croke Park date in 1997 sparked boy band-like devotion among his legion of fans. However, what was once a mutual relationship — he wrote the song Ireland for his 1995 album Fresh horses – upset in 2014 when his planned five-night stand in Croke Park fell through after protests from the local residents’ association. The ordeal, dubbed #GarthGate in the media, was addressed in the Dáil, prompting an offer of mediation by Mexico’s ambassador to Ireland and even inspiring a stage show called Fiona Looney is that you garth it’s me margaret.
Those gigs in 2014 were to mark Brooks’ big comeback – the opening dates of his first world tour since 1998 and a statement heralding his exciting return from retirement. Instead, he dusted himself off and rallied with a new album human versus machine (whose sale took him past Elvis Presley to claim the RIAA-certified title of “Best Selling Artist of the 20th Century in America”) and embarked on a tour of the United States and Canada.
Two more albums gunslinger (2016) and fun (2020) followed in the intervening years — but if you’ve ever looked for them, or indeed any of its back catalogs, on any of the major streaming services, you’ve been disappointed. As far back as 1993 In pieces, Brooks has always been very protective of his music. Back then, his label got into a legal battle after Brooks ordered them not to ship the album to record stores that also sold used CDs, arguing that by doing so they were devaluing the music. So you can imagine his thoughts on Spotify and its paltry artist fees. These days, you can only find his songs on Amazon Music, which acquired its own short-lived streaming service, GhostTunes, in 2017.
It was undoubtedly a journey from hell for Brooks. There were bumps along the way, lots of hits, a few misses and maybe even some regrets intertwined with the many triumphs of his career. When he looks at a sea of Stetsons and tricolors in Croke Park on Friday evening – perhaps with the lyrics to his own tune Ireland Echoing in his ears – it seems things have closed.
“Ireland I’m coming home‘ the song says. “I can see your rolling green fields / And stone fences / I reach out, won’t you take my hand? / I’m coming home, Ireland.” There is no doubt that he will be welcomed with open arms.
https://www.independent.ie/life/stetsons-track-scholarships-and-an-alter-ego-how-garth-brooks-became-the-king-of-country-41970162.html Stetsons, track grants and an alter ego: How Garth Brooks became the King of Country