On September 4, 2014, Garth Brooks will play the first date of his highly anticipated comeback tour in Chicago, Illinois. Garth Brooks stepped away from the music industry a number of years ago, and, apart from a few flare-ups here and there, he has kept to his word of staying off the radar until his daughter graduated high school. Garth has been playing it smart: first with a series of shows in Las Vegas that culminated in a live national television event to get his name back in the headlines. He then released Blame It All On My Roots, a box set of albums that focused on all of Garth's musical influences, and also featured his greatest hits and a concert DVD of his Wynn Las Vegas production. Yes, Garth is coming back full swing, but what can we expect from the former leading male in country music? The country music world has changed so much in the years since Garth left that its hard to believe this is the same genre he once reigned over. But, I have faith that Garth will not only keep his music grounded, he will right some wrongs with traditional fans and bring some real country music back to the spotlight.
If Blame It All On My Roots is any indication, the demand for Garth Brooks music is still as high as ever. The box set was available exclusively at Walmart and it still debuted at number one on the Billboard country album charts and the all genre Top 200. Despite his extended absence (or, maybe because of it) there was a demand like never before for new Garth music, even if it was almost entirely covers of old songs. Tickets go on sale for his Chicago show on Friday, July 25, and I'm sure it will sell out in minutes. Garth's comeback has the chance to eclipse George Strait as the hottest tour of the past decade. Along with the tour comes the announcement that Garth will make his music available digitally for the first time. Garth is one of the last major hold-outs from iTunes. He has remained adamant that unless his albums were sold as full albums only and not as individual singles, then his music wouldn't be on iTunes. He is still holding out from iTunes, but his music will begin to be available digitally through his website in the coming weeks. This will be huge for sales when it comes time to track the numbers of his next release. Adding the digital factor will greatly improve his already stellar sales status.
All this is wonderful, but what will the music sound like? That's all that really matters. If Garth Brooks comes out rapping in the bed of his pickup about bonfires and painted-on jeans, then this is all a moot point. Fortunately, Garth is doing what he does best. During his press conference, Garth stated “The world has changed, we know that. But all we can be is ourselves”. He also added these two gems: “There’s two terms that’s going around right now. One’s called Bro-Country. You familiar with these? Are you familiar with hick-hop? Um, I don’t think my stuff’s either one of those,” and “I’m ready to compete with them. Because competition between us only make the product better, which makes the consumer more happy. And under that flag of country music. It all keeps going in circles.” Sounds like Garth is planning on moving forward with real country music, which is great for us and for him. It's good for people like me because Garth is a huge, huge star. Where Garth goes, others will follow. You can bet that if Garth has a huge hit with a sad rodeo song with a fiddle solo and an aching steel guitar backing, that the rest of Nashville will follow suit. If Garth stays true to his word and records real country music, it will instantly make traditional country commercial and viable again. That is great news for us. It is good for Garth because many of the grumpy music snobs like myself who hate the direction of modern country music directly blame Garth Brooks. Garth's superstardom of the 1990's took country music to incredible new heights, as Garth became a star who was bigger than the genre and attracted a lot of pop and rock fans. As I mentioned before, once Garth did something, the rest of Nashville followed and crossovers became the name of the game. While I certainly agree that Garth's marketing, image, and status pushed country music into the pop world, his music actually stayed very country through all this. Listen to "The Thunder Rolls" or "What She's Doing Now" and tell me that guy isn't country. I think that if Garth brings back more stuff like that and has success with it, a lot of traditionalists may forgive him for his role in the popifying of country music. That would be good for Garth. So, basically everybody wins. This is a huge moment for country music, and Garth holds all the power in his hands. He can swing the genre back to its roots or knock it into a whole new level of crazy with one album. Your move, Garth.
All that being said, I'm excited for this news. I grew up with "Rodeo" and "Papa Loved Mama", and as a child of the 90's country movement, I'm simply excited to see one of the guys who got me into country music live for the first time. I know that despite his larger than life persona, Garth respects the genre of country music and all those who made it great. He always alludes to his heroes, George Strait, George Jones, and Merle Haggard (James Taylor too, but we are skipping over that detail right now). I'm confident that Garth wants to bring country music back to its roots and make it about real music again. Who woulda thunk a bunch of traditionalist snobs would be begging Garth Brooks to come back? Life is funny sometimes. Good luck to you, Garth, on your comeback, and please, remember to keep it country!