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October 23, 2014

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A night at Garth Brooks: $50 tickets, lucky farmers and memories of Texas Club

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Henry Diltz

Garth Brooks performs during his first weekend at Encore Theater.

Click to enlarge photo

Garth Brooks, shown performing during his opening weekend at Encore Theater.

Click to enlarge photo

Garth Brooks, shown performing during his first weekend at Encore Theater.

How was it that Larry and Wanda “Wandaful” Johnson of Fort Collins, Colo., arrived at the seats next to mine at Saturday’s 8 p.m. performance by Garth Brooks?

Simple. They were seated at the slots earlier that afternoon at Encore. Excellent positioning.

Until then, the Johnsons had no tickets to Brooks’ show at Encore Theater. They were in town for their annual pilgrimage, their 21st, to the National Finals Rodeo at Thomas & Mack Center. They were not even staying at Encore. They got a great deal -- $263 for three nights – for a suite at Bally’s.

“And this is a really nice suite,” Larry said. He and Wandaful were at Encore for no particular reason, mostly because it’s a fancy place to play slots.

While jabbing the buttons, a woman playing next to the Johnsons unexpectedly asked, “You have any interest in Garth Brooks tickets?” Before Wandaful could screech “Scalpe-e-e-e-r!” the woman explained that she could not make the show as scheduled and was eager to shed this pair of ducats for the 8 p.m. performance.

For $50.

Garth Brooks Press Conference

Garth Brooks speaks during a press conference on the debut night of his new show in Encore Theater at the Wynn on Dec. 11, 2009. Launch slideshow »

Total. Not $50 apiece. Fifty USD for two tickets with an after-tax and after-fee face value of $143. By comparison, $50 will get you one ticket -- one -- to “Bite” at Stratosphere.

“We'll take it!” said Larry, a distinguished gray-haired and bespectacled heavy construction contractor in Fort Collins. “We got a damn good deal!”

Often bouncing in the seats next to me, Larry and Wandaful obviously enjoyed the show, laughing and clapping through Brooks’ stripped-down, acoustic-and-storytelling showcase. As we filed out of our row, Wandaful said, “You know, we would have paid more. We would have paid $50 each.

It warms your heart, seeing such spoiled tourists. It’s one of Brooks’ gifts to the city.

More vignettes from The Brooks Experience at Encore and Wynn, as the country music superstar unwound his near-decade-long retirement from live performances:

**

Seated in the front row were three buddies: David Whitley, David Shulman and Matt Rich. Whitley is from Charleston, S.C.; Shulman from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; and Rich from Studio City (or, if you will, Los Angeles), Calif. I asked them how they obtained their tickets, and by happy happenstance, Shulman has already been asked this by Steve Friess in a freelance story Friess wrote for Portfolio.com.

The plan among these guys, who met online long before they knew one another face-to-face, was for Whitley and Schulman to hit the Wynn box office site the moment tickets went on sale and nab three seats for opening weekend. In a freak shot, both ticket-buyers were successfully funneled through the box office Web site and permitted to buy tickets. Both did, with Whitley (easily the biggest Brooks fan in the crew) getting three in the front row, though he wasn’t given a purchase option for 45 minutes.

The problem was now the three ticket-buyers had six tickets and no viable options to get rid of these seats aside from the Wynn option, which was for Whitley to eat the $429. After a back-and-forth with a Wynn box office rep, the trio were allowed to kick the tickets back to the hotel without being dinged for the $400-and-change, the argument that the venue would be better off taking back the tickets rather than having three empty seats in the theater and an equal number of disgruntled fans seated.

As those in the front row explained, ticket-holders were sent a letter stating they could pick up their tickets at the box office beginning at 11 a.m., at which time they would have the back of a hand stamped and be issued a wristband. Didn’t happen.

“I expected a wristband, but there aren’t any wristbands or hand stamps,” Whitley said. “I doubt that was ever going to happen.”

**

One quick line: Brooks' stage attire looks like it was purchased during a shopping spree at Flying J. But he makes it work.

**

Ron and Sue Brothen are among those who benefited from such ticket returns. Earlier in the day, the hotel made tickets sent back to the box office available for sale, and the Brothens, who hail from Columbus, N.D., simply approached the box office and asked, “Got any Garth Brooks tickets?” There were plenty available, and the Brothens purchased two for 8 p.m.

“We’ve never seen him in person,” Ron said. “He’s played in Fargo and Bismark, but we’ve never been able to make it.” The Brothens, also in town for the NFR, keep busy in the northwest corner of North Dakota, quite near Canada, with a 3,500-acre farm they tend to themselves. They grow a lot of wheat up there. It’s not a big place. According to the 2000 Census figures, the population of Columbus was 151 a decade ago.

“We’re actually pretty boring people. We’re not big music fans,” Ron said. “But we had this chance, and we couldn’t pass it up. It was easy, really.”

**

Another quick line: Brooks’ staging looks a lot like an airplane hangar, without the airplane. But he makes it work.

**

Todd Tregre walked out of the theater smiling and shaking his head. He wore a purple LSU jacket, so it wasn’t a surprise to know he’s from Baton Rouge, La. He’s seen Brooks before in venues grand and intimate.

“I saw him at a place called the Texas Club in Baton Rouge, in the late ’80s, and it was a show very much like this,” he said. “He had a band, but there was a set when he played just acoustic and took requests.” Tregre also caught Brooks about a decade later at Pete Maravich Assembly Center on the LSU campus.

Todd and his wife, Dawn, were shut out online but had plans to be in Vegas this weekend anyway. They were among those who bought tickets at the counter.

“We were unsure what to expect,” Tregre said. Did he expect the star to walk out in a hoodie, jeans and a ball cap? “No. I thought he’d be in a cowboy hat, at least. But it was one of the best shows I’ve seen, ever. A lot of fun.”

**

Another quick line: Brooks would not have been more comfortably attired if he walked out wearing fuzzy slippers and a housecoat. But he makes it work.

**

George and Elizabeth Pendragon of Ventura, Calif., are huge Brooks fans -- except for George. “She got me into his music,” George said after the 8 p.m. performance.

“I have seen him 14 times,” Elizabeth said. The two attended the Fire Relief Concert in Los Angeles in January 2008, which was Brooks’ most recent concert before Friday’s opening performance at Encore. The two were joined by in-laws Judy Southland and Lyle Rice of Buena Park, Calif. The consensus review was that Brooks, who once suited up for the San Diego Padres in spring training, knocked it out of the park.

“It was all him, all the time,” Rice said. “I just wish he’d played more of his own music instead of playing so many songs by other singers.”

Maybe next time. There are 300 shows to go before Brooks returns to the road in full force, in 2014. But until then, the world comes to him -- and to Las Vegas.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.

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