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November 21, 2014

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One who knew Garth Brooks before fame says he’s still the same

Garth Brooks to perform at Wynn

Entertainer Garth Brooks, left, and Wynn Resorts CEO Steve Wynn announce a deal during a news conference in the Encore Theater at the Wynn Las Vegas hotel-casino Thursday, Oct. 15, 2009. The arrangement will bring Brooks out of retirement for a series of special performances in the theater. Launch slideshow »

If You Go

  • Who: Garth Brooks
  • When: 8 p.m. Dec. 11 and 13, 8 and 10:30 p.m. Dec. 12
  • Where: Encore Theatre, Wynn Las Vegas
  • Tickets: $125; 770-6469
  • Also: Jan. 1-3 and 22-24, Feb. 12-14 and 26-28

Beyond the Sun

Country superstar Garth Brooks could fly to Paris for dinner at Le Cinq, but he prefers to drive down the road to Taco Bueno.

He and wife, Trisha Yearwood, also frequent Braum’s Ice Cream parlor near their home in Owasso, Okla.

Since Brooks stepped out of the spotlight in 2001, the down-to-earth entertainer has spent most of his time at his ranch near Tulsa, keeping his promise to raise his three daughters.

So when Brooks popped up last week to announce he was coming out of retirement for a five-year headlining deal at Wynn Las Vegas, it seemed a good time to call the music critic who first predicted Brooks would become a star and ask him: Is Garth Brooks — all “Aw shucks” and “Hey there, Miss Nancy” — for real?

“He has been unfailingly nice every encounter I’ve had with him and he doesn’t have to be,” says John Wooley, former entertainment writer at the Tulsa World. “I hear that again and again. People see him and Trish out at local restaurants all the time and he is unfailingly nice.

“I’m sure he’s besieged all the time. He’s as genuine as he can be.”

So maybe it makes sense that it will be just Brooks and an acoustic guitar when he opens at the Encore Theatre in December. And maybe Steve Wynn wasn’t kidding when he said he had to buy him a private jet so Brooks can be back home in Oklahoma when the kids wake up on school days.

Maybe success hasn’t spoiled the man who burst onto the music scene with “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old),” and went onto to sell more than 128 million records and fill stadiums with concerts that resembled rock spectacles.

Wooley recalls seeing Brooks perform at Tulsa City Limits country music club in 1989. He’d honed his act while he was a student at Oklahoma State University, playing the bars in Stillwater.

“I saw the show and it knocked me out. I thought it was really terrific and said so,” Wooley says from his home in Foyil, northeast of Tulsa. “I was the first person to say in print that he was going to be the next big thing in country music.”

At a local Rotary Club event last year, Wooley says, Brooks told him that he’d carried that review in his wallet for years.

Wooley watched his prediction come true. The money rolled in, the shows got bigger and Brooks became a superstar. But the 47-year-old singer has remained true to himself, Wooley says.

“The personality I saw on that stage that first night when I wrote about him — the personality, the charisma, the contact he had with the audience, the almost manic quality in that show — hasn’t really changed all that much.”

“Each decade has a pop music artist who defines it,” Wooley says. “In the ’50s it was Elvis; the ’60s, the Beatles; the ’70s, Elton John; the ’80s, Michael Jackson.

“It was Garth in the ’90s. He was the biggest thing in popular music in the ’90s and he handled that better than any other superstar. I don’t think anyone could handle it better in terms of staying as genuine as he could.”

Brooks came along at the right time with a new product, Wooley says.

“He’s a good songwriter, a good performer, all of these things,” he says. Country singer “Don White said one time you can starve to death just as easily being ahead of your time as you can being behind it. I think Garth hit his time exactly right. He did something different.

“You go back to his days in Stillwater. He’d sit up there with his guitar and take requests — someone would request a George Jones song and he would play that, someone would request a James Taylor song and he would play that, someone would request a Kiss song and he would play that.

“He brought all of that kind of music together — pop, rock and country. Plus he has a real knack of writing and performing songs that get right to the root of everyday emotions. With all those things together, he was something different. He was in the right place at the right time and he has real talent.”

And Brooks is a savvy marketer.

“You’ve got to remember he has a degree in advertising,” says Wooley, who now teaches at Brooks’ alma mater, Oklahoma State. “I tell the students that in advertising and marketing the primary dictum is you have to continue to reinvent yourself in order to keep yourself before the public eye. That’s why Campbell’s Soup has to change labels every once in a while.

“That’s what Garth does. He continually brings attention to himself by doing something new. That’s really smart.”

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