If Garth Brooks can’t fill an Ohio stadium two nights in a row, nobody in country music can.
And, as it turns out, nobody in country music can fill Paul Brown Stadium two nights in a row.
The first night of the country superstar’s Friday-Saturday stand at PBS was a bust in terms of attendance. The Saturday show went on sale first, and the Friday show was added last month, presumably on the strength of Saturday’s sales.
In retrospect, it seems like a miscalculation. Somebody in the talent buyer’s office might receive a stern talking-to from a boss.
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The majority of the field seats and the 100 level appeared to be filled, but the 200 and 300 levels could not have been emptier.
Did this discourage Brooks? Of course not, at least the Brooks we saw commanding the stage over the course of a nearly two-hour performance.
If there’s anyone in showbiz who would know better than to punish the people who bought tickets to a poorly attended show – not that it happens often to him – it’s Brooks.
“People, you guys are small, but you are mighty,” he declared. “I love this.”
Performing on a stage constructed somewhere in or near the red zone on the north side of the field, Brooks, surrounded by seats on all sides, gave one of his typical performances in which he tries to have a one-on-one moment with every member of the audience and seemingly succeeds.
A fan in the ninth row held a sign asking for a guitar pick. Brooks handed the pick to a person in the front row, instructing people to pass it back to the woman with the sign. Nobody pocketed it; they passed it back as he asked.
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The encore consisted of Brooks, alone on stage with an acoustic guitar, performing short versions of a dozen songs, each a request by a fan holding a sign.
And for the full-band blowouts during the main set, like “Two of a Kind, Workin ‘on a Full House,” “Two Pina Coladas” and “Papa Loved Mama,” Brooks would run, in cowboy boots, from one end of the stage to the other, pointing at fans, making heart symbols with his hands, doing what he could for that interactive feel, paying the price in sweat.
“A fat boy sweats a lot when it’s hot like this,” he explained.
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Backed by an 11-piece band, which included singer Robert Bailey, Jr. from Middletown, Brooks put forth perfect-sounding renditions of his biggest hits, from ballads like “Unanswered Prayers” and “The Dance” to barroom singals like “Friends in Low Places.” Some of the best performances were of other people’s songs, like “Fishin ‘in the Dark” (the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), “Shameless” (Billy Joel), and “Callin’ Baton Rouge,” (the Oak Ridge Boys), which is essentially Brooks’ song at this point. On top of those he performed James Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James” and Bob Dylan’s “To Make You Feel My Love” during the encore.
Putting box-office stats aside, it was a great show – Brooks gave 100% effort, and fans could get out of the parking garage in half the time. Midway through, when he knew things were going well and the crowd could only agree, Brooks called upon any members of the press present at Paul Brown Stadium reviewing Friday’s show.
“I want to tell whoever’s reviewing the show,” he said, “You better tell Saturday night they better pack their … lunch.”