Garth Brooks just played three sold-out intimate shows in Nashville where he shared songs by his musical heroes, the lineage of his biggest hits, and the stories behind some of the pivotal, defining moments of his career.
Brooks delivered a smattering of Bob Seger, George Strait and James Taylor and threw in some Keith Whitley, Randy Travis, Elton John, Merle Haggard, Dan Fogelberg, The Oak Ridge Boys, Billy Joel and Don McClean. The idea was to illustrate how his diverse influences feed into some of his most beloved songs. Regardless of how much Brooks admires Seger or spent his late teen years wanting to be Strait, no one had a more significant impact on his early career or adult life than Nashville songwriter Kent Blazy.
Blazy sat in the Ryman’s balcony Saturday night, and when Brooks called attention to his friend, Blazy got a standing ovation. Brooks said Blazy was the first songwriter he worked with in Nashville who treated him as an equal.
“I told him, ‘I’ve got this idea that everybody hates,’” Brooks recalled. “It’s called ‘If Tomorrow Never Comes.’”
Brooks said Blazy understood immediately and then told fans he would play the parts that he wrote.
“This is fair,” Brooks quipped as he strummed the melody and sang the hook, indicating that Blazy did everything else.
“The greatest thing you can do for someone who holds a guitar is sing their song back to them,” Brooks said. “The greatest thing you can do for a songwriter is sing his song back to him.”
Brooks played “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” and the audience sang the lyrics for Blazy.
Blazy also co-wrote “Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)” and “Somewhere Other Than the Night,” but the helping hand he extended to Brooks goes beyond his chart-topping co-writes.
“This guy took me in and gave me a place to sleep when I needed a place to sleep,” Brooks said. “But the biggest thing he did was introduce me to this girl from Georgia.”
Brooks said he couldn’t figure out why Blazy was so insistent that he met this singer Trisha Yearwood. Blazy finally told him it was because he thought he’d like her.
With that, Brooks brought his wife onstage. The couple teamed for some of the night’s most compelling performances. They covered Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn’s “After the Fire is Gone,” Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s “Shallow,” their duet “Whiskey to Wine” and brought the house down with George Jones and Tammy Wynette’s “Golden Ring.”
The shows were solo acoustic – just Brooks and his guitar. And as much as the audience loved learning about the parallels between James Taylor’s hits and his own – nothing compared to Brooks singing his songs. He powered through his up-tempos “Friends in Low Places,” “Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House,” and “Callin’ Baton Rouge” and brought drama with “Thunder Rolls” and “That Summer,” admitting that very little about the song was true. Brooks tested the rules when he encouraged people to hold up their cell phone lights during “The River” even as the stern-faced ushers held signs forbidding it. He sang “Unanswered Prayers” and “Rodeo” and masterfully executed an a cappella version of “It’s Your Song” when a fan requested it. He saved “The Dance” and “Standing Outside the Fire” for last – even though it likely won’t be the last.
Brooks said the three small-venue Nashville shows were an experiment to see what he wants to do after his stadium tour ends in 2022.
After the concerts were over, Brooks posted pictures on social media with the caption: “I could do this every night.”