Garth Brooks loves Ireland and he really, really wants you to know that
Appearing at Croke Park on Monday morning, Garth Brooks opened his heart to the world – and the world gushed back.
It felt fitting that the long-awaited return of Garth Brooks to Ireland – the first part, at least – should conclude with a heartfelt and moving sermon on the nature of love.
If you've seen his surreal and compelling Netflix documentary The Road I'm On, you'll know that Garth Brooks is a highly emotional figure, often breaking down and openly weeping about anything and everything if given the slightest chance.
And so it was no surprise that a quiver emerged in Brooks' voice almost immediately when he began addressing the room full of reporters in Croke Park's theatre space on Monday morning.
The vibe and general aesthetic was akin to a low-stakes college address, with everyone gathered entitled to expect full marks, the lecturer pacing the stage for over an hour.
A pointed love-in as opposed to any kind of grilling, the approach was often to quiz Brooks on his love for Ireland (he loves it quite a bit), his apparent place in Irish folklore (he doesn't necessarily agree that he has one) and his hopes to conclude one of the more unique pop culture sagas in recent history (he may well settle for just the two concerts, if you take his word).
All business and business is good for a man who struts in, cowboy hat and double denim uniform present and correct, quickly cracking the room up by joking that even with a face mask on, startled onlookers "somehow knew it was me" when he touched down at Dublin Airport moments beforehand.
“This is where it started and this is where it’s going to end," Brooks said, reframing Ireland as the final destination for his comeback tour and an opportunity to pen a personally satisfying epilogue.
With two gigs officially announced, the obvious focus shifts to the long-rumoured near-mythical five-night run. According to the man himself, this isn't likely to happen.
“I’d love to do five but I’d also like to be six foot five and have abs," he cracked.
“What happened in 2014 was a fricking miracle – there’s no way we’re going to do that number again. I can’t see us doing five.
"Would I love it to happen? Yes. But I think it’s impossible."
Image via Sam Boal / RollingNews.ie
Should we believe him?
The prospect of Brooks finally caving and only performing two shows after such a protracted, heartbreaking saga – “It was like a death in the family to us," he said on Monday, the brim of the cowboy hat bowing accordingly – seems, well, impossible.
“It’s not mine to forgive, I don’t hold anything [against] anybody," he said when the spectre of 2014 and the question of forgiveness was raised.
"The fact is if you get to play Ireland, you’re a lucky son of a bitch – I don’t hold a grudge against anybody."
The thing about Garth Brooks that you can see via TV screen, on a stage or 10 feet away from you at a press conference is this – the man is an exceptional showman.
You're basically watching a professional wrestler in his Hulk Hogan-esque prime work the crowd. He's sincere, no doubt, but you're following the beats of a magic trick.
And he knows it. He knows how to play the audience like a fiddle.
It's clear he adores Ireland and all of the ethereal beauty he's read about in the travel guides, the endless energy and devotion he's previously channeled through the screams heard on previous occasions here.
“The blessing of playing Ireland is to be among human beings that define love the best," Brooks said, his voice breaking for the 10th or 11th time. "The curse is when you don’t get to be here every day, when you don’t get invited to the party."
There should be no doubt in anyone's mind that he means this. Speaking later about Irish people's capacity for sympathy and empathy, Brooks threatened to resemble an actual giant beating human heart, if you squinted hard enough for a few seconds.
He needs you to know how much this place feels like home to him. He'll listen to a rural radio DJ essentially list off the Garth Brooks Wikipedia page for a few excruciatingly long minutes before arriving at unbreakable kinship with the man. He'll take three or four stabs to get your name right. He'll give you a story to tell.
He'll even go to a hurling match the week before his Croke Park appointment, if he can. "Any sport where people knock the living shit out of each other – that’s like our show," he deadpanned to yet another chorus of laughs.
What he won't do is sing a song, on the spot, for the cameras, upon request. And rightly so. Some dignity, please, for us all.
“It’s 4am where I’m from – you might be the first female I’ve ever said this to, but no," was the polite-but-terse retort to that one.
“It’s the greatest privilege and the greatest joy for an artist to play Ireland – and the greatest heartache to be told that you can’t," Brooks summarised early, the voice a little shaky, his eyes somewhere close to Ole Gunnar Solksjaer's tearful farewell for the Manchester United faithful and PR team on a cold Sunday afternoon.
Brooks isn't going anywhere, though. He's coming back to the one place he knows he can lay that distinctive hat. Home.
Tickets for Garth Brooks' Croke Park shows on 9 and 10 September, 2022, go on sale this Thursday 25 November at 8am via Ticketmaster and usual outlets nationwide.