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Review: Garth Brooks Turns Dome Into 'Big-Ass Honky Tonk,' Delights Record-Breaking Crowd

County music superstar Garth Brooks talked to the media the day before the concert. | March 8, 2019
Jon Lewis | St. Louis Public Radio

Country music superstar Garth Brooks said he was terrified to take the stage Saturday night at the Dome at America’s Center in St. Louis.

He acknowledged that feeling of performance anxiety to a sold-out audience of some 75,000 fans – a record for the venue – and at a press conference the day before the concert.

“[I’m] scared to death to go into stadiums and arenas,” Brooks said. “I came [to St. Louis] because I’ve been here. It’s going to be like eating ice cream with two spoons.”

With the musician last in St. Louis in 2014, the concert Saturday was the first of five so-far-announced stops on his Stadium Tour.

The performance started 50 minutes late to accommodate people still making their way into the Dome. The crowd went wild when Brooks finally emerged. He quickly dispensed with two newer songs and then said he puts himself in fans’ shoes when he goes to concerts.

“I wanna hear the old stuff,” he said to more applause.

“There’s nothing that’ll piss you off more than going to a concert of a guy you love and him dump a whole new album on you,” Brooks said a day earlier. “That just doesn’t work for me as a listener.”

The “old stuff” began with “Two Piña Coladas” and “Rodeo.” He threw in “The River,” “Papa Loved Mama,” “The Thunder Rolls” and a cover of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Fishin’ in the Dark.”

Despite any nerves he may have felt, Brooks was exuberant and the crowd loved him. He adeptly moved about the large yet simple stage, allowing concertgoers a view from every angle. Particularly noteworthy was the lighting, made all the better by four digital columns that displayed song-appropriate pulsating images.

And while smartphones are ubiquitous at concerts these days, unlike some musicians, Brooks embraced them. At one point, Brooks laid on the stage to take a selfie with a fan. Later, he took a fan’s phone to take a selfie of himself and several thousand fans in the background.

At times it was difficult to hear the dialogue between songs, perhaps swallowed by the enormity of the Dome. Yet when Brooks slowed things down with “Unanswered Prayers” and “Ask Me How I Know” with only his guitar as accompaniment – it worked.

Trisha Yearwood’s surprise appearance and performance of “Walkaway Joe,” with husband Brooks on backup duty, produced one of the most emotional moments of the evening. The two artists showed a chemistry that was real and splendid.

Brooks’ band was stellar, particularly Jimmy Mattingly on fiddle. Also notable was Brooks being joined by his college roommate, guitarist and vocalist Ty England, who performed with Brooks early on before launching a solo career.

Brooks noted the reunion and joked that he wanted the audience to give an honest assessment of England’s playing, wondering aloud “if it had gotten any better.” That sequence set off England’s four-note “audition” that is the unmistakable intro to what’s perhaps Brooks’ biggest hit, “Friends in Low Places.”

“Callin’ Baton Rouge,” “Shameless” and “The Dance” rounded out the pre-encore concert.

Brooks’ encore was marked mostly with ballads and responses to fans’ signs. He acknowledged a woman celebrating remission from cancer and dedicated the final song of the evening – the more up-tempo “Standing Outside the Fire” – to a woman diagnosed with late-stage cancer.

Tweeting after the concert, Brooks said, “St. Louis. THANK YOU for giving me the BEST night that I’ve had in a long, long time!”

The fact that Brooks – the best-selling solo artist in U.S. history – chose St. Louis to start his tour is significant. As he explained, it was a reflection of the “warmth, love and sweetness” he felt from St. Louis fans in 2014, feelings that undoubtedly will endure.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex HeuerEvie HemphillLara Hamdan and Jon Lewis give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.
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