Country icon Garth Brooks rode into the last date of his American stadium tour at NRG Stadium on Saturday, August 6 with nothing left to prove.
He boasts more than 157 million albums sold, countless awards won, numerous No. 1 songs, and performances to crowds of all sizes across the world. Yet, here was a 60-year-old man bounding across the stage, making men half his age look out of shape (he shared his hilarious fitness regimen with us before the show), and hitting high notes with sheer abandon for the duration of a 31-song set that spanned well over two hours.
It was one of the largest and most well-executed shows ever to hit NRG, and for Brooks fans, it served as complete fan service with a perfect balance of hits, deep cuts, and covers.
The night started out with an acoustic set by Nashville country solo artist Mitch Rossell, known for his work on the Brooks No. 1 song “Ask Me How I Know.” The serviceable and seemingly nervous singer-songwriter performed admirably to a crowd streaming into a fully lit stadium. Pittsburgh-based blues-country act Ghost Hounds fared somewhat better, ably plying a mix of Rolling Stones swagger, the twang of Scarecrow John Mellencamp, and a swirl of soul music to get the crowd hyped up.
Following a five-minute countdown and a video that streamed scenes of Houston, Brooks came onstage with his massive band comprised of Nashville songwriting professionals, whooping and hollering to “All Day Long,” the first single off his 2018 album, Fun. The crowd returned the energy, especially on the follow-up track, “Rodeo,” the song he opened RodeoHouston in 2018.
Dressed in a black shirt, black cowboy hat and blue jeans, Brooks was completely soaked in sweat a couple songs in from running from one end of the stage to the other, making sure all corners of the stadium could see him.
“This is the last show of our stadium tour,” Brooks shouted. “We didn’t come here to talk about it, we came here to turn it up!”
After a huge response, he kicked into the 1990 No. 1 hit, “Two of a Kind, Working on a Full House” from mega-selling album, No Fences. Like the energizer bunny, Brooks once again ran around the stage over the course of the song, amazingly still able to sing the lyrics without an oxygen mask.
“Are you guys serious?” Brooks exclaimed, taking a moment to appreciate the loud applause. “We brought all of our old songs with us, hit songs, slow songs, and there’s going to be a lot of cowboy songs. That’s what we do at a Garth show.”
A string of heavy-hitters, “The Beaches of Cheyenne,” “Two Piña Coladas,” and “The River,” all No. 1 hits, kept the energy going with massive singalongs that were commonplace throughout the night. The sound in NRG was definitely heavy on echo, but that didn’t matter to his fanbase who didn’t really need to hear Brooks sing as much as they wanted to be be a part of the show.
Brooks acknowledged the crowd after almost every song, often pointing out the dozens of signs that asked for requests. “This is a highly choreographed show,” Brooks joked. “We can’t just stop and change it up.”
But that gave way to the first of a few impromptu solo acoustic numbers showcasing some of his and his fans’ favorite songs with 1995 No. 1 song “She’s Every Woman.”
“If this setlist is going to go to hell, we best better get started,” Brooks exclaimed as he delivered some mutual country superstar love to the man he says he admires and often imitates with the performance of George Strait’s country classic, “Amarillo By Morning.”
Other highlights throughout the night included “Papa Loved Mama,” one of the highest energy songs of the set, the rollicking honkey tonk rhythm combining the best of old school country with new. “The Thunder Rolls” from 18-time platinum selling 1990 album No Fences was one of Brooks’ best vocal takes of the night.
“At the end of the tour, this is exactly the way you want it to end right here,” he beamed after the tune.
“Aint Going Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up),” had a sweaty Brooks flinging water into the crowd, running along giving audience members high fives. The crowd was all putty in hands by that point, simply giving into the Oklahoman’s sheer charisma and talent.
Still, he humbly recognized every single player in his band over the course of a few songs, giving each of them a moment in the spotlight with stories of when they joined his live crew and their accomplishments as musicians. That included Brooks’ studio band, The G-Men, who he convinced to join him on the road as a way to celebrate the fruits of their labor. It was a classy touch.
The Oak Ridge Boys cover, “Calling Baton Rouge” — the song that famously caused an earthquake when played in the city — was another high energy staple, Brooks naming it his favorite song to play live. One of his most familiar and beloved tunes, “Friends in Low Places” was another big singalong, some the crowd getting to share his mid-show snack of peanut butter M&Ms.
The set wrapped up with the slow-tempo No. 1 signature number “The Dance,” many in the seats visibly moved and brought to tears by the song that no doubt held strong sentimental meaning for a decent portion of the audience.
Thankfully, that wasn’t the last we saw of Brooks, a 12-song, double encore ahead that included several solo acoustic covers, “Night Moves” by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, “Piano Man” by Billy Joel, and “American Pie” by Don McLean among them.
The highlight came during the cover song, “Shallow” from the A Star is Born soundtrack. Brooks’ wife Trisha Yearwood rose up from under the stage, performing the Lady Gaga half to his Bradley Cooper role, everyone going wild to see the country queen.
Simply put, Yearwood was awesome, hitting all the high notes with aplomb in a gorgeous sequined jump-suit and black denim coat.
Brooks gave up center stage to his wife for a version of her own No. 1 smash, “She’s In Love with The Boy,” which ended with a big smooch between the two. Finally, they shared vocals on the excellent “Standing Outside the Fire,” Brooks’ pipes still hitting as hard as they did at the start of the night.
The man was a marvel to behold and practically had to be pried away from his guitar, leaving everything on stage for a tour finale that no doubt competed for the highest-attended show at NRG Stadium.
Frankly, the superstar performer has no reason to tour anymore. He’s earned his place in American lore as one of the most successful artists to have ever lived. He seems to have a lovely home life in Oklahoma.
But, it’s not difficult to see why Brooks still hits the road regularly with his spectacularly polished band. His fans adore him, he quite obviously loves to perform and loves them, and he still has the energy to do it.
Here’s hoping he returns to Houston sooner rather than later. Until then, we’ll all have the memory of witnessing one of the biggest and best shows in recent memory, well worth the price of admission.
“All Day Long”
“Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House” (Dennis Robbins cover)
“The Beaches of Cheyenne”
“Two Piña Coladas”
“She’s Every Woman”
“Amarillo By Morning” (George Strait cover)
“Fishin’ in the Dark” (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band cover)
“Papa Loved Mama”
“The Thunder Rolls”
“If Tomorrow Never Comes”
“Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)”
“Calling Baton Rouge” (The Oak Ridge Boys cover)
“Shameless” (Billy Joel cover)
“Friends in Low Places” (Dewayne Blackwell cover)
“The Dance” (Tony Arata cover)
“Everytime That it Rains”
“Message in a Bottle”
“In Lonesome Dove”
“Night Moves” (Bob Seger cover)
“If I Could Make You Feel My Love”
“Ask Me How I Know”
“Shallow” (Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper cover) (with Trisha Yearwood)
“She’s In Love With the Boy” (by Trisha Yearwood)
“Standing Outside the Fire” (with Trisha Yearwood)
“Piano Man” (Billy Joel cover)
“You Never Even Call Me By My Name” (Steve Goodman cover)
“American Pie” (Don McLean cover)