Nashville left bemused by rejection of their 'Elvis'
DOWNTOWN Nashville has broad sidewalks and flashing lights soundtracked by the strum of a thousand guitars.
But a little bit of Ireland has crash-landed into the home of country music, with bar talk focusing on the fate of the Garth Brooks concerts throwing up mentions of Croke Park, Owen Keegan and the GAA.
All you have to do is ask what they know about Ireland, and with no prodding whatsoever our planning laws and selling concert tickets "without a permit" trip off every tongue.
"Croke Park is it? Isn't that the only big venue you have like that?" asks Larry Pareigis, who also happens to be the man that put the Dixie Chicks on the map.
Andrew King is standing in his cowboy boots outside Robert's bar on Broadway. He tells me that he was to go to Ireland for the last night of Garth Brooks's shows in Croke Park.
In a deep southern drawl, he says: "I've been waiting 14 years to see the king and nothing's going to stop me. He chose Ireland and you won't have him?
"He's the man, he's the man."
It is slightly surreal that the typically insular Americans know not only the name of our national stadium, but also who Dublin's city manager is.
Mike Vanderhike, a cab driver, tells me he believed the decision "came down to a guy named Owen (Keegan)". He heard this on one of the local radio stations on Thursday morning.
Even the rickshaw drivers know about it. Standing out on the road and just up from the Bridgestone Arena, Josh Cloud informs me that everyone in Nashville thinks it is "insane" to sell concert tickets before a licence is granted.
I touched down in Nashville, Tennessee in time for Garth Brooks's impassioned press conference on Thursday, where Garth promised he would "crawl, swim or fly" to Ireland to meet the Taoiseach and try to ensure five concerts went ahead.
As I sat in the press conference, a man of tall stature approached me. "I'm Bob Doyle, are you here from Ireland, the press?" he asked.
"Indeed I am," I said, as it dawned on me I was having a one-on-one with the Major – Garth Brooks's longtime manager.
Little did I realise that later that night, myself and Bob would sit down and break bread together in Nashville.
After the press conference we all hung around. I chatted to Garth.
Then the offer of two matinees came in – but for Garth's people that still, unfortunately, is not a runner.
Marvin Baker, chairman of the Cafe Nashville radio station, insists that Garth is not being stubborn or petulant.
"He once stayed up for 23 hours straight and shook everyone's hand – he really cares about his fans.
"Garth is our Elvis. He is the Elvis of our generation. What other artist would stay up 23 hours and shake everyone's hand?"
With every second passer-by in either a cowboy hat or boots, Garth Brooks is not short of friends in Nashville.
When I first arrived I feared that I might be hunted out of the city, if they found out that I was Irish.
Contrary to my fear, everyone tells me they "respect" our laws.
But then they say: "Maybe you should change them."