Published Friday, Oct. 16, 2009 | 9:21 a.m.
Updated Saturday, Oct. 17, 2009 | 6:51 p.m.
We could talk of numbers such as “1,” where Garth Brooks ranks among solo artists in terms of total album sales in U.S. history by the Recording Industry Association of America. We could simply point to the figure of 128 million, the figure that places him ahead of such iconic artists as Elvis, Led Zeppelin and The Eagles and trailing only The Beatles.
But to measure the type of fan devotion Brooks enjoys, mere numbers do not convey the full story. Jennifer Hiller does.
A heart transplant coordinator from San Antonio, Hiller heard of the news conference in Las Vegas just Wednesday, and by yesterday morning had booked a flight on Southwest Airlines to attend that day’s news conference at Encore Theater announcing Brooks’ five-year residency at the 1,500-seat showroom. Hiller said she first saw Brooks perform in 1990 at the Central Park Mall in her hometown -- a venue since razed -- and has spent nearly two decades communicating with fellow Brooks fans online. She has long wished for a time when Brooks would return to performing, his 2001 retirement preventing any formal touring.
“We’re in a sisterhood, us Garth fans,” Hiller said. “We communicate daily. It’s an extension of family.” The Web site PlanetGarth.com is a popular clearinghouse for fans seeking Brooks data, but as Hiller said, “We’ve met over the years at shows and swapped information, and that’s how we keep in touch, in e-mail. I know a lot of people here today.”
Several hundred fans of Brooks filed into the theater yesterday for the news conference. When asked if $125 per ticket for all seats was a little steep for fans used to paying $25 to see Brooks on tour, Hiller laughed and said, “No problem. I plan to see as many shows as possible.” More than even statistics, she is to be believed.
No ‘Vegas option’ for family
After the news conference, I asked Brooks' wife, country singer Trisha Yearwood, if there was any serious discussion of the family moving to Las Vegas.
“No, no,” she said, standing near the lip of the stage. “We’re firmly entrenched in Oklahoma. Our lives are there,” she said. Brooks’ three teenage daughters and mother, Brooks' ex-wife Sandy, all live in Owasso, Okla. “We’re going to come here to hang out once in a while, is all. … I think (Las Vegas) is fun, I’ve played Vegas many times myself. It’s always a good time, it’s always a good crowd. You don’t really have to define it.
“Everything will be the same, except Garth will be coming to Vegas once a month, and how cool is that?”
Brooks said Yearwood would definitely be among the guest artists he brings onstage, “but not every night,” which drew some laughs from the audience.
A man and a guitar
“It’ll be a one-man show, so there will be a lotta disappointment after that first weekend,” Brooks joked (presumably), a comment that also prompted laughter. “It’ll be me and a guitar. It takes me back to the first days I played, when I was fortunate to play a place called Wild Willie’s in Stillwater, Okla., before I started touring. I’m the band.” Brooks said he would enjoy the flexibility of testing certain numbers “to see what people do and don’t like.” Accustomed to playing spacious arenas during his touring days, Brooks said, “I’ve never played in a place built for sound like this. I hear myself and I think, ‘Who the hell is that?’ I thought that when I first played here for Steve and 1,130 of his friends.”
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