Music News & Reviews

Garth Brooks says Rupp Arena is 'one of the five top places to play ... in the world'

Garth Brooks played the first of four shows at Rupp Arena on Friday October 31, 2014  in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Garth Brooks played the first of four shows at Rupp Arena on Friday October 31, 2014 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

It's 3 p.m. Halloween afternoon. The rain is starting to fall outside Rupp Arena, but the real floods are still to come. They will come not in the form of precipitation, but in the masses of fans who will pour in, then out, then in again to hear Garth Brooks' first Kentucky concerts in 16 years. That translates into two shows a night for two nights and the possibility of having as many as 80,000 fans in attendance.

The country star, who cites Rupp as one of the top five venues he has played, was ready to welcome them all.

"You come here, you better be ready," remarked Brooks during a pre-show press conference with wife, touring partner and fellow country celebrity Trisha Yearwood.

"I would hate to be an opposing player in there, because the thing about Lexington and Rupp Arena, the people are right on top of you.

"We came here with The Judds the first time (in 1991). Kelly, my brother, was tour manager. I walked out and said, 'Dude, as quick as we can get back here we need to.' We've been wearing out our welcome ever since.

"Trust me, when I say this is one of the top five places to play, I'm including every place we've ever played in the world."

Brooks' Rupp shows coincide with a return to national and international touring after a self-imposed retirement in 2000. Part of the reason for the break was so he and Yearwood could raise a family. The two now view themselves as empty nesters. "Real empty nesters," Yearwood said. "We're not even there."

But a return to touring meant also meant touring as a team.

"For me, the thing was we wanted to do this together," Yearwood said.

"It used to be the best thing about touring was always the two hours onstage," Brooks added. "Not anymore."

When asked what he expects to be different about his performances, Brooks referenced his audience.

"I expect to see the same people I saw" in 1998. "And their kids," he said.

"But I'm not sure what is going to be different. The fact is that it's partly going to be you. I want for you to walk away going, 'I saw this guy in '98 and he is as good or better than he was then.'"

Another significant difference for his current world tour, which has been playing as many as six and seven nights in cities like Chicago and Jacksonville this fall, is demographics.

Breaking from the usual female-dominated country concert contingency, Brooks and Yearwood are seeing a healthy population of men at their shows.

"I look out, and there are these dudes out there," Brooks said.

"And they're all singing She's in Love With the Boy," Yearwood added, referring to her 1991 breakthrough hit.

For Yearwood, touring sellout arenas means having to streamline her sets.

"When I do my part of the show, I pretty much hit the highlights," she said. "So I keep things pretty up. I'm kind of one for ballads, but in a show like this, it's pretty hard to do ballads. But once you start singing, you see everyone holding onto each other and standing up with their virtual lighters."

"Virtual lighters." That's one of the signs of what has changed since Brooks' last Rupp outing. So what else is new?

"Okay, here's a physics question I can't figure out," he said. "If you buy a beer now, it's 10 times the size of what it used to be. So when you look out, everyone's got a beer in one hand and an iPhone in the other. I'm going, 'How in the hell are these people clapping?"

The singer also admitted that extra years and "about 50 pounds" will also change a few performance traits like swinging from rigs above the stage while singing Billy Joel's Shameless, as he did during his first Rupp show in 1991.

"No, I won't be flying across the stage."

Added Yearwood, "At least, not on purpose."

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