Garth Brooks performs the first of seven shows over two weekends at the Sprint Center Friday, May 5, 2017. Jill Toyoshiba jtoyoshiba@kcstar.com
Garth Brooks performs the first of seven shows over two weekends at the Sprint Center Friday, May 5, 2017. Jill Toyoshiba jtoyoshiba@kcstar.com

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Timothy Finn blogs about Kansas City's music scene

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Garth Brooks in Kansas City: The 2017 experience

Jason Boatright

jboatright@kcstar.com

Timothy Finn

tfinn@kcstar.com

and Pete Grathoff

pgrathoff@kcstar.com

May 08, 2017 12:24 PM

For the first time in nearly 10 years, Garth Brooks is taking the Sprint Center stage in front of sold-out crowds. Ten years ago, Brooks sold out nine shows in 10 nights in Kansas City. This year, he will play a total of seven shows over two weekends.

Part of Brooks’ appeal may derive from his down-to-earth nature. Music writer Timothy Finn recalled a meeting with Brooks in 2006, detailing the star’s sincerity — “the kind of guy who looks you in the eyes as he shakes your hand.”

Aside from personality, the music must pass muster to become the best-selling solo artist of all-time — a title Brooks holds, with more than 135 million albums sold in the U.S. alone.

Brooks’ first five shows from May 5-7 were packed with energy and elation, and included appearances from a few familiar Kansas City faces on stage. His second weekend, May 12-13, featured one show each night that were no less enthusiastic.

Garth gifts

During the sixth concert, Brooks gave away several instruments to adoring fans, much like he did during the May 6 concert, when he gave an autographed guitar to an Iowa woman about to open a new business.

At the seventh and final concert, Sprint Center unfurled a second Garth Brooks banner to mark his seven sold-out shows.

Long before Fetty Wap and the 1738 craze, the Royals had special relationship with a different music star: Garth Brooks.

Brooks, who is finishing up a stretch of seven concerts at the Sprint Center this weekend, has ties with the Royals that go back to 2004. Here is a look at the connection.

After four shows in less than two days, Brooks’ voice was showing some fatigue and wear. He mentioned it a few times, though the affliction sounded relatively minor and one that needed no remedy other than rest. He gave it none of that Sunday night.

After the video introduction that heralded Brook’s gargantuan statistics – ticket sales, album sales, attendance figures – he popped on stage and barged into “Baby, Let’s Lay Down and Dance,” his preferred opener on this leg of the tour.

It suits its purpose: A large percentage of the crowd recognized it and baptized it with a stirring sing-along. He followed it with “Rodeo,” another crowd favorite; “Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House,” a rip-snorting anthem that recalls Bob Seger’s “Get Out of Denver”; then “The River,” a hymn about unfettered devotion to a cause; “Two Pina Coladas,” a throwaway ditty about getting buzzed on the beach; and “Papa Loved Mama,” a tale that turns tragic after Mama reveals that her love (or lust) isn’t exclusive.

Brooks noted the number of days between Sunday night’s show and the next show — a Friday night date at the Sprint Center — implying heartily that he was ready to play for a while, to the brink of midnight, at least, if not into early Monday morning.

He would deliver yet another high-octane show and though his energy never waned obviously, he appeared to be fatigued, beyond his slightly faltering voice.

Brooks brought the evening and the long weekend to a close with two blockbusters: “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Bad),” which includes his blessing for the late country music and rodeo star Chris LeDoux, and “Standing Outside the Fire,” a reminder that life’s deepest rewards are the products of risk and thinking outside the safety zone.

It brought to a close a show that impressed an array of Brooks’ fans, both the veterans and the newcomers.

The early show started around happy hour, but it was evident that many of the 17,000 in the place had indulged in some day drinking. From the opening chord of “Baby, Let’s Lay Down and Dance,” the mood in the place was nothing short of unhinged bliss.

The sing-alongs started immediately, even when Brooks dipped deep into his catalog. His set list didn’t vary far from Friday’s.

It included favorites like “Rodeo,” “Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House,” “The River” and “Two Piña Coladas,” a song Brooks recorded in 1997, one of country music’s earliest forays into the breezy beach-pop inspired by Jimmy Buffett.

During both Saturday shows, Brooks recalled his long history in Kansas City, going back to when he was performing at the Kansas City Opry, the Wyandotte County Fair, Guitars & Cadillacs and the American Royal before selling out Kemper Arena.

On Saturday Night, during “Friends in Low Places,” instead of crew members invading the stage brandishing air cannons to rain streamers and confetti upon the crowd on the floor, as they did during the afternoon show, Brooks enlisted Royals players Eric Hosmer, Drew Butera, Whit Merrifield, Brandon Moss and Travis Wood, all sporting white jerseys.

The place went from bonkers to berserk. Hearing 17,000 people sing “Let’s go, Royals” evoked sweet memories each time.

The Royals' Whit Merrifield describes Garth Brooks concert appearance

Kansas City Royals infielder Whit Merrifield talks about going on stage with other teammates at Saturday night's Garth Brooks concert.

John Sleezer The Kansas City Star

Several times, Brooks reminded the sold-out crowd of nearly 17,000 that this was the “opening show” of the Kansas City tour, which was accurate, technically, but also a bit of a dodge.

Brooks would pledge that this night would be devoted to old songs and greatest hits, but he opened with something new: “Baby, Let’s Lay Down and Dance,” a single from “Gunslinger,” his 10th studio album, released in October. He jumped from there back 26 years, to “Rodeo,” a track from his “Ropin’ the Wind” album, one of his earliest and most successful albums.

The highlights came early and often. Brooks tested the crowd a few times, daring them almost to show off their familiarity with his older material by singing along. His challenge was met every time, even, as it turned out, with some new material.

Those older songs generated an abundance of energy and participation, songs like “Beaches of Cheyenne” and especially “The River,” which crescendoed into a visceral gospel anthem.

He changed the mood after that with “Two Piña Coladas,” a frivolous party anthem with an inescapable fusion of melody and groove; and “Papa Loved Mama,” one of the more joyous murder ballads you’ll ever hear.

After detonating the room with a high-ballistic version of “The Thunder Rolls,” Brooks turned the stage over to Yearwood, who spent several songs demonstrating why she’d been a major-label country star in the mid- to late-1990s.

Her six-song set included a few of her biggest hits, like “XXX’s and OOO’s,” the R&B/ soul track “How Do I Live” and “She’s in Love With the Boy,” which never fails to deliver a gust of sugary appeal. Yearwood also performed the title track to “PrizeFighter,” which she dedicated to “kicking cancer’s ass.”

She ended her set with one of her biggest hits, “She’s in Love With the Boy,” during which the enormous video screen hosted an episode of “kiss cam” (and some of the chosen couples indulged lustily).

After his cover of Billy Joel’s “Shameless” and a rabble-rousing rendition of “Callin’ Baton Rouge,” Brooks strapped on an acoustic guitar, half-apologized for his lack of ability, and strummed the opening chord to “Friends in Low Places,” sending the place into a state of molten euphoria. The subsequent sing-along shook the place.

He closed the first set with “The Dance,” a gooey and sentimental breakup ballad that prompted more than a few couples in the place to slow-dance romantically.

Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood on Kansas City and the Royals

Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood talked lovingly about Kansas City and the Royals during press conference Friday, May 3, ahead of their show that night at Sprint Center.

Shelly Yang syang@kcstar.com

“Kansas City is like the next big thing in the Midwest,” Garth Brooks said at a Friday afternoon news conference inside Sprint Center.

“It’s Chicago all over again, with heart and soul. And common sense. Kansas City will grow but stay its very sweet self.”

Brooks was joined by Yearwood, who is performing at all the Kansas City shows.

A Georgia native who lived in Nashville for years before moving to Oklahoma, Yearwood said Kansas City “feels very familiar, like home.” Kansas City, she said, is where a lot of friends and family visit or move to, so this weekend, “we’ll spend time with friends and family.”

The two were asked what song they most liked to perform live. Brooks said “ ‘Callin’ Baton Rouge’ is my all-time favorite song to perform live. You’ll see. Just when you think … it can’t get any crazier, this song comes and there’s a whole ’nother level of the show. It’s so much fun.”

“This tour is different from anything I normally do,” Yearwood said. “My ‘Evening With Trisha’ is a lot different from this, so I try to find ways to … keep the energy going and not create a void for him to have to come back and fix. I’m not as high energy as he is. … For that reason, I think ‘How Do I Live’ is my favorite song to perform live in this tour because of the audience participation.

“I am shocked by the number of people who weren’t born when ‘She’s in Love With the Boy’ came out or ‘Friends in Low Places’ and how they all know all the words.”

Brooks said the goal, lofty though it may be, is to exceed what happened here in 2007.

“Our job,” he said, “is to come here and have even more fun than we did last time.”

Jill Toyoshiba, Shelly Yang, John Sleezer and Max Londberg contributed to this story.

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