Yes. You read that right. At approximately 4:30 PM on the 11th of November, Garth Brooks tweets this: “SURPRISE! Meet me @IndySF at 5:30 pm for a free #ManAgainstMachine listening party (Yes, really!) -love, g”. It’s one of his very first tweets. I also had no idea what this really means. I mean, he’s one of the biggest stars in the history of popular music. When he tours, he does residencies at arenas. Even if it’s really just him sitting on a stool playing a CD of new songs, this is huge.
So I abruptly left work.
I arrived at the venue at exactly 5:30. I didn’t think I’d get in, but when I arrived, it was less than one-quarter full. On stage, a man was an acoustic guitar and a headset mic. There are two distinct sets of people in this room- Garth Brooks fans and curious onlookers that decided to drop in. The curious onlookers hovered near the back by the bar. The fans packed tightly in front of the stage, despite all of the space in the venue. Brooks walked in the room through the front door around 5:50 or so, greeted by shrieks from the crowd. He quickly made his way backstage, and prepared for whatever he was doing.
He came out and began to discuss his new record, Man Against Machine. He introduced a handful of tracks, and played 30-second snippets. He was personable and funny, and it would’ve been well worth it if this was all we got. He then pulled out the acoustic guitar and played a track called “Mom.” A warm, heartfelt song off the new record about a man meeting his mother for the first time. At this point, it really becomes unreal. His voice is huge, and sounded fantastic. We were then treated to what was, basically, a condensed version of the solo show he did in Vegas for a number of years. He told stories about his life, songwriting technique, and so on. He played seemingly off-the-cuff covers, simply because his stories reminded him of those songs. We got Merle Haggard’s “Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down” medleyed together with Otis Redding’s “Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay” after discussing growing up around an equal blend of country and soul music, showing where his distinct brand of music came from. He played a song made famous by Patty Loveless called “Here I Am,” which he misheard, inspiring “The Dance,” his favorite of his own songs.
After playing a short snippet of “The Dance,” he put down the guitar to take in a Q+A with the crowd. A certain noteworthy question seemed to visibly embarrass Brooks, when asked if “That Summer” was based on a true story. He didn’t exactly answer the question directly, getting some solid laughs from the crowd. He also was asked when he was going to play a full show in the Bay Area, and he danced around that one, too. He was great at making sure that everyone got a question in, and was wonderful with the crowd. He then pulled the crowd pleaser, “Callin’ Baton Rouge,” before closing out with an epic crowd sing-a-ong of the karaoke classic, “Friends In Low Places.” He barely used the mic, as the crowd was filled with people that know the song better than they know themselves.