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Concert Reviews:
Garth Brooks rocks all night long at Ford Field

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Sunday, February 23, 2020

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Talking to the media the day before his Saturday night, Feb. 22, concert at Detroitís' Ford Field, Garth Brooks said that "my job is to try to shrinkage this place down to a dive bar."

That was a tall order, given that the place on Saturday held more than 70,000 fans (tickets sold out in just 90 minutes back in November) for the largest ever music crowd at the stadium and for one of the country superstar's shows in the metro area.

And, truth be told, that shrinkage wasn't really necessary. More than 30 years into his career as the most successful solo performer of all time, Brooks knows how to do large and seems to do even better each time it gets bigger. On Saturday Brooks took the whole package to another level, enveloping a massive stadium -- filled with friends in low, and high, places -- with his energy, hits, disarming sincerity and full-on entertainment value whose pyrotechnics were fully of the flesh-and-blood variety.

The two-hour and 10-minute party (there is no other word) was also the first for Brooks' new stage, an in-the-round affair that suited his full-contact style to the proverbial T. In addition to the genuinely jaw-dropping sight of Brooks surrounded on every side by fans going nothing short of bonkers, it allowed him to play to multiple front rows, working all 360 degrees as well as ramps that jutted further into the crowd on each side. Though he often made a great show out of being winded -- 10-gallon hatted head bowed, hands on knees, panting into his headset microphone -- Brooks never flagged, and he finished nearly every song with a wide, opened-mouthed smile, shouting joyous salutations to the heavens beyond the Ford Field roof.

He was having as good a time as anyone who bought a ticket, in other words -- saluting Detroit as the place he played his first show after getting his record deal (the 1989 Downtown Hoedown) and telling he crowd at one point that, "I'm lucky enough to have people who come a long way just to hear me sing. I came a long way to hear YOU sing!"

And that they did, filling the night, which Brooks said was being recorded for a future live album, with singalongs for everything from the rowdy anthems such as "Ain't Goin' Down ('Til the Sun Comes Up)" and a lusty "Friends in Low Places" to affecting ballads like "Unanswered Prayers," "If Tomorrow Never Comes" and "The Dance."

Following an exuberant half-hour opening set by Chase Rice, whose first concert as a spectator was Brooks in North Carolina when Rice was 11 years old, Brooks emerged from underneath a levitatng drum kit, sporting a Barry Sanders Detroit Lions No. 20 version in homage to his fellow Oklahoma State University alumnus -- and, in his book, "the greatest player in NFL history" -- tucked into his comfy-fit jeans. He offered some new songs -- the opening "All Day Long" and "Dive Bar" from his upcoming "Fun" album -- and filled the main set with 90s hits, covering a range from the rocking "Rodeo" and "That Summer" to the Texas swing of Dennis Robbins' "Two of a Kind, Workin' on a Full House" to the Louisiana hay ride of the Oak Ridge Boys' "Callin' Baton Rouge." Brooks made a show out of skipping a planned ballad in order jump into "Two Pina Coladas," but he later scored with back-to-back solo acoustic renderings of "Unanswered Prayers" and "If Tomorrow Never Comes" and a torching rendition of Billy Joel's "Shameless."

There were some deep catalog treats as well, including "All-American Kid" and a snippet of "The Old Stuff" before "Friends in Low Places." Brooks really dug in during the encore -- which Brooks called "the house-cleaning" portion of the show, starting with Billy Joe's piano man and then responding to fan sign requests for the likes of "We Shall Be Free," "Belleau Wood," "People Loving People," "In Lonesome Dove," "Mom," "Ireland" and others before the full band finished with a roaring "Standing Outside the Fire."

It had been five years since Brooks last played the city (six shows at Joe Louis Arena), and though his Stadium Tour will run through the summer of 2022, who knows when he'll be back. But on Saturday Brooks left his Detroit fans with plenty to sustain them until that next time.

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