Review flashback: Garth Brooks created magical moments at Notre Dame
Country music artist Garth Brooks performed a live concert Oct. 20 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. The concert was broadcast Sunday night on CBS.
Tribune reporter Becky Malewitz attended the concert and reviewed it. Here is that review.
It’s hard to say who had more fun at the Oct. 20 Garth Brooks concert at Notre Dame Stadium, the sold-out audience of more than 84,000 or the singer himself.
Despite the potpourri of wintery weather conditions, the more-than-two-hour concert, which began after an hour-long delay, could have extended farther into the night with audience members risking hypothermia if Brooks had given them the option.
Yes, it was cold, but it was unforgettable. You would be hard pressed to find many concerts with a level of mutual admiration between the entertainer and those being entertained than Notre Dame saw Saturday night with Brooks.
As with any new venture, there were a few hiccups.
Prior to the start of the concert, it was hard to find information about the delays because announcements couldn’t be heard in the concourse and there was no information found on social media. Many concertgoers, who stayed on the stadium concourse to try to keep warm and dry, had no means of finding out what was happening and when they should filter out onto the field.
After the show, there were significant backups getting out of the parking lots, and although that is to be expected, the section of the Joyce lot where my car was parked took nearly two hours to clear.
Fans still content with the concert took it in stride. Some even continued to tailgate.
For his part, though, Brooks made the night magical.
Kicking off the concert with his newest hit, “All Day Long,” a release from his upcoming album, Brooks’ entrance was recorded with a plethora of cellphones as the singer walked in through the tunnel past a sea of fans wearing a rainbow of ponchos.
“Hello, Notre Dame,” the singer said from the 360-degree stage at the conclusion of the song. “We’ve been waiting for this for a long time. How ya all doing?”
“That Summer” and a cover of Dennis Robbins’ “Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House” followed and showed the audience how Brooks planned to make the theater-in-the-round work. The center of the stage rotated, with his band on it, while he moved about the periphery to play to each side of the stadium.
Fans closest to the stage, singing and cheering and dancing, seemed unfazed as a wave of water falling off of the top of the speakers came crashing down on them.
One of Brooks’ greatest hits, “The River,” brought a beautiful, genuine moment to the stadium. With lights lowered and cellphone flashlights illuminated, the audience sang the chorus, putting a spell over the stadium.
At the song’s conclusion, it was time for a second take. Brooks explained to his audience that because this was being filmed for a television special — “Garth: Live at Notre Dame!” — he needed them to sing the chorus again and clap. This time, the cameras recorded the crowd noise to use in mixing the special, which will air locally at 8 p.m. Dec. 2 on WSBT-TV.
It broke the spell slightly, taking the audience out of the soul-filling concert moment that had just occurred, but Brooks had warned the audience that he was going to work them. They took on their role with gusto, many understanding that this night was going to live on as something bigger than South Bend.
There were a few times Brooks stopped the flow of the concert to make sure that producers had what they wanted. The audience re-sang “Two Piña Coladas,” which actually made the stadium feel at least a few degrees warmer, “Standing Outside the Fire,” and covers of The Beatles’ “Let It Be” and “Hey Jude.” They did the wave a number of times to make sure the cameras caught it right.
Even the stops were made up for by the atmosphere and Brooks’ friendly and sometimes joking approach as he asked the audience to comply.
Like “The River,” during Brooks’ rendition of “Unanswered Prayers,” the darkened stadium filled with cellphone flashlights, a peaceful moment experienced by more than 80,000 people.
As the song finished, Brooks removed his hat as a gesture of thanks and admiration to the crowd.
“This is the time to try something new, because you guys are carrying my ass somehow,” Brook’s said before his band went into a cover of Bob Seger’s “Night Moves.”
In combination with “Unanswered Prayers,” it had a calming and familiar effect that will be hard to forget.
Brooks then speeded things up with “Standing Outside the Fire” and “Rodeo,” which had the people sitting behind me singing with the same intensity as the Fighting Irish getting ready for the kickoff at a Michigan game.
Explaining his concept for Music 101, which he plans to bring to the universities he plays in order to keep alive what he categorizes as some of the best songs by the best artists ever, Brooks launched into a medley of Gabe Dixon’s “Live Again” paired with The Beatles’ “Let It Be” and “Hey Jude.”
As the crowd sang “Let It Be” for the third or fourth time in order to get the right sound for the special, the singer looked like a kid at Christmas.
Brooks rounded out the part of his show with his band with “Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)” and “The Thunder Rolls.” The latter felt even more theatrical because you could see that singer’s breath during the chorus.
“This is unbelievable,” Brooks said at the end of the song before he introduced the members of his band, who deserve as many accolades as the singer himself for Saturday’s show.
He then went on to say he wanted to “make a date” and that because he started his tour at Notre Dame, he wants to end it there. If he thought “The Thunder Rolled,” it was nothing compared to how the crowd screamed.
After a little bit of housekeeping to make sure that producers had their crowd noise and all the shots they wanted, Brooks dismissed his band and stood alone on stage for an acoustic set to close out the night.
This wasn’t for TV; this was for Brooks and South Bend.
Alone on stage, Brooks, armed with a guitar, began to speak to the crowd, take requests written on fan posters and turn Notre Dame Stadium into an intimate venue.
The acoustic set seemed like a mix between Brooks not wanting to leave and a special bonus for being his human props throughout the taped portion of the show; either way, it was personal and touching and ours.
He began the set with “She’s Every Woman,” the first single from his 1995 “Fresh Horses” album. The second request, “The Red Strokes,” came via a lit up poster halfway up the concourse near the north end zone, which Brooks pointed out from the stage.
“Ireland,” “More Than a Memory” and Ashley McBryde’s “Guy Goin’ Nowhere” followed, and then Brooks finished the show with a pair of covers, Seger’s “Turn the Page” and Don McLean’s “American Pie.”
As the final notes of “American Pie” rang out over the now-even-colder stadium, cheers filled the night and Brooks made his way into Fighting Irish history.