I can't remember if I mentioned this, but we spent a couple of nights in Las Vegas on our way back from our recent San Diego vacation. The main reason we did this was to attend the Garth Brooks show at the Wynn Hotel. We've never been huge Garth fans - his confessed infidelity and subsequent divorce didn't exactly endear him to us - although we appreciated his skill as an entertainer. But we'd heard rave reviews from people whose opinions we trusted, and it just happened that he was going to be performing at the same time we would be coming through Vegas.
It's worth noting that Brooks usually appears just once a month in Las Vegas, and nowhere else. The story goes that while he was happily retired, Steve Wynn made him an offer he couldn't refuse - not a horse head in bed, but a barn full of money. Each month, Wynn sends his private jet to Claremore, OK (or as close as it can get) to pick up Garth and, usually, Garth's newish wife, Trisha Yearwood. Brooks does four shows in this small venue during the weekend and Steve flies them home in time to feed the livestock on Monday, or whatever they do that makes them want to get back to Oklahoma.
I'm going to provide a more complete review below, but if you're impatient, here's what you need to know: if you have the chance to see Garth Brooks at the Wynn in Las Vegas, do it. I don't care if you love or hate country music, you'll be glad you did. It was one of the most enjoyable shows we've ever attended, in an venue, in any genre.
Here's the deal - it won't be what you expect (unless you read on, and then it will be, unless Garth reads this and decides to change things up to keep me off balance. I wouldn't put it past him). We expected a concert where he performed his hits, but he sang perhaps only about five of his own songs. Instead, the theme of the show was his account of the musical influences, dating back to his childhood, that provided the inspiration for his sound.
He started with the 60s and worked his way, a decade at a time, to the present. Along the way, he performed snippets of music by entertainers as diverse as Merle Haggard and George Jones (his dad's Holy Musical Duo), Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor (whom Garth idolizes to the point of embarrassment), Don McLean (of American Pie - the song, not the gross movies - fame), George Strait, and even Bob Dylan (in a hilarious parody in which he skewers Dylan's tendency for unintelligible lyrics).
Garth's skill with a guitar is impressive, which is a good thing since he's the only musician on the stage, and the guitar is the only instrument (besides his equally impressive voice). I keep having to expand my list of Top Guitar Performances Of All Time.
What really made his performance special is the way he seamlessly wove stories from his childhood and later life in and out of the musical influences. The surprising thing is that Brooks is a truly funny, engaging guy, and I seriously doubt that an audience attending a show at a comedy club would laugh more than we did at this concert. It helps if you grew up in rural America, but most of his humor is universal...or at least universally American.
I mentioned Trisha Yearwood. I understand that she doesn't always appear; I don't know if that's true, but she did make an appearance while we were there, and she was Garth's musical match. She sang one solo song, and they did a duet (one of the highlights of the show, really), and we felt privileged to get to hear her in person.
You might expect that after such an amazing performance, we'd have come home and downloaded everything Garth Brooks has recorded, but that's not the case. We're still not big fans of his music (in general; there are a few exceptions). But we are now and always will be huge fans of his performances.
If you're wondering why I'm not posting any photos from the performance, it's because we're apparently the only people in the universe who actually believed the stern "NO CELL PHONES" warning on our tickets and left them in the safe in our hotel room. Of course, when we got to the venue, every single person had their phones out and were fooling with them. (I didn't, however, see anyone taking photos during the performance; I'm quite sure that would have resulted in a quick ejection.) Never fear, though; I've employed my finely-honed skills as a sketcher of historical events to provide you with a hyper-realistic picture of the performance. Why, it's almost as if you're right there in the Wynn with your good pal Garth. (Pay special attention to the carefully selected Western font designed to evoke the feeling of Americana that is perfectly epitomized by Friends in Low Places.)