Garth Brooks Made Me A Country Fan Overnight

I wasn’t a country fan. When I walked into the Bryce Jordan Center on Friday night, I kept reminding myself of that. What in the world was I doing at a Garth Brooks concert? Sure, “Friends in Low Places” is a fun song, but country music is boring. It’s just a bunch of dudes in cowboy hats singing about dirt roads and tractors in a souther accent. The music is boring and all sounds the same.

I’m typically reluctant to admit when I’m wrong, especially when I’m as egregiously wrong as I was about Garth Brooks. I could drone on about how musically talented Brooks and his band are, and how tight the group is after over two decades together on the stage. I could go on for paragraphs about the technically flawless guitar solos, commanding drum beats, and impressive fiddle playing. But I’m not going to do any of that, because the best part of Friday night’s concert was how much fun Brooks had on stage.

Brooks has an innate ability for turning an arena into a dive bar or backyard, transforming his concert into a small group of friends watching a talented musician have some fun on stage. Between every song, Brooks seemed overcome with shock as applause and cheer rained down on him.

“Is this what it’s gong to be like all night?” Brooks asked early in the show. “I’m like 104 years old now, so I’m going to need some help to get through six shows here. Who knows the words to the old stuff?”

When the crowd made it clear they did, Brooks went into “The River”, a 1992 single that topped the country charts over two decades ago. After the song ended, the crowd engagement continued, with Brooks leading a “We Are” chant.

“And you should be damn proud of it,” Brooks said, finishing the chant before joking with one of his own. “I am… old.”

Brooks told the crowd how much he loves coming to State College because the fans have a knack for making every song feel like its their favorite. For Lois Cheatle, it wasn’t hard to make “The Dance” seem like her favorite. Late in the show, Brooks spotted Cheatle’s sign, which asked him to play the iconic song for her two sons who passed away from cancer.

“Every once in a while, I see a sign like this,” Brooks said, tearing up as he spoke to the emotional fan. “I would trade places with your boys in a second, both of them. I know you still talk to your boys, so you tell them I say hi.”

Cheatle was just one of a few fans to earn Brooks’ attention in the final half hour of the show. When he saw Kelly Rooney, whose sign read “You’re my James Taylor,” Brooks couldn’t help but bring the woman on stage. Taylor is his idol, his inspiration, and he was touched by the sign. Brooks serenaded Rooney with “She’s Every Woman” before handing her his acoustic guitar as she bawled her eyes out with tears of joy.

It was moments like these that made Brooks’ performance a memorable one. The music was brilliant, and that was the biggest surprise for me as a country virgin, but the legendary artist’s rapport with his fans, his genuine love for his craft, is what changed my mind.

I wasn’t a country fan. But I am now.

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About the Author

Zach Berger

Zach Berger is a reporter and Onward State's Managing Editor Emeritus. You can find him at the Phyrst more nights than not. If he had to pick a last meal, Zach would go for a medium-rare New York strip steak with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and a cold BrewDog Punk IPA. You can reach him via e-mail at [email protected] or on Twitter at @theZachBerger.

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