“Hey, sweetheart, how are you? Sorry I’m late. I’m Garth.”
From some people, it might seem artificial or sarcastic. How could you not know who Garth Brooks is?
But from him, it plays as honest as the simple gray sweatshirt he wore to the press conference in the Founders Lounge at the Bryce Jordan Center.
That makes it unsurprising that what Brooks calls one of the most important aspects of his performance is sincerity. It also makes statements that might seem like canned public relations from someone else ring true from him.
One of those is how he came to State College at all, much less extending to six shows over two weeks.
Brooks said that the first show of his comeback world tour after being retired since 2001 was in Chicago. That one show stretched to 11, and that is when, he says, he knew he would not get to every city he wanted to visit. He started to whittle the list based on just one statistic.
“How much fun did we have last time?” he said.
Even 18 years after the fact, the Bryce Jordan Center stood out as a favorite.
But that wasn’t the last time Brooks was in State College. He said he visited just three college campuses with his oldest daughter. Penn State was one of them. It might have been a contender, but was “just too far from home.”
Sticking to roots was a recurring theme for him.
He doesn’t compare himself to contemporary country artists like Taylor Swift and Lady Antebellum, who are crossover hits much like he was in the 1980s and 1990s. Their songs are as heavily played on pop stations as country.
“What I loved about what we were a part of was, the audience came to country radio,” he said.
He acknowledged the changing times since his last tour, but said he doesn’t hold with some older artists who blame the dilution of the genre.
“You see these guys come out and whine a lot,” he said.
Times change, he says. The trick is to be an artist like Tony Bennett who does what he wants to do and doesn’t try to be something that doesn’t fit.
Still, he likes the idea of collaboration. He doesn’t think he is cool enough to work with Bruno Mars and is unapologetic in his admiration for Lady Gaga, who he pegs as one of the top five female vocalists of all time, along with Christina Aguilera and his own wife and touring partner, Trisha Yearwood.
Working with her is part of what Brooks loves about the new tour and what fills his life outside of the four hours of stage time.
“When the other 20 hours are spent with the love of your life and your best friend,” he said, that is a good day.
Yearwood, who has a Food Network cooking show, is just as good a cook as she seems, he says, and one secret she revealed on the show is true. He laughingly admits that, yes, he does put tortellini in everything.
But ask him why he is such a nice guy to his crew and others and he turns back into the self-effacing, “aw shucks” guy again, saying he isn’t sure that is true.
What he does love, though, is working with talented people — on stage and off — learning from them as he goes.
That explains one little quirk. Brooks seldom uses the word “I,” favoring a team-spirit “we” when he talks about his tour. And it is plain that he is thrilled to be back in the saddle with his posse after all these years.
“It’s just the chance to play again,” he said.