Tuesday 23 July 2019

Garth's 'Weary Blues from Waitin' in Nashville, Tennessee

Demand for five concerts was never meant to be a six-shooter to the 
head, writes Joyce Fegan in Nashville

Garth Brooks speaking at Thursday's press conference in Nashville
Garth Brooks speaking at Thursday's press conference in Nashville

Joyce Fegan

I have spent the last three days with Garth Brooks in the home of country music - Nashville Tennessee.

I broke bread with his legendary manager Bob Doyle and learned what they really think of us.

As the White House was being contacted and the big networks scrambled to cover what quickly became known as "Garthgate," I did my best to explain to them how they are being perceived in Ireland.

I told them that turning down the proposal for matinee performances and asking for five nights in a row was seen, rightly or wrongly, as akin to a six-shooter to the head.

"He never meant the five or nothing as an ultimatum. He has always had a very low price on his tickets, there has never been a golden circle, people can't buy tickets before others on some special deal. When Garth says it's all about his fans, it is all about his fans," a source close to Mr Brooks said.

I responded that many at home saw it as a ransom demand and Irish people might not buy the line that he was doing it for the fans.

The source explains that the "ginormous," stage currently on the high seas coming to Ireland was meant to be a "gift of love" to Ireland.

"After Croke Park we have no use for the stage. Garth thought and thought about how he could make this show better than his last one there and so this vast stage was created, I wish I could show it to you."

The stage with its hundreds of screens was designed specifically for an Irish dusk. That is why the Aviva is not an option and why matinees in bright daylight would not work. "I don't want to do a half-assed show," Mr Brooks said at his press conference.

I suggest gently that shooting down the Aviva and afternoon shows is being interpreted by some as petulance. That it's Garth's way or no way.

Now ongoing talks are turning to alleged fraudulent licensing objections submitted to Dublin City Council.

A judicial process is one option on the table.

And secondly, on the day he was appointed Minister for the Environment, Labour's new deputy leader Alan Kelly was contacted directly by the Garth Brooks organisation.

His entry into the conversation is seen as a huge step forward with one party involved in the talks saying: "We hope to have a positive update on Monday."

Shortly after the news broke Thursday two weeks ago that Dublin City Council was only granting a licence for three of the five concerts, Garth Brooks issued a statement saying: "For us it's five shows or none at all."

Seen by many as an all- or-nothing demand direct from Music City to Ireland, it was anything but, according to those closest to him.

"I don't think Ireland understands how passionate he is about his fans. This is a man who defied his own management by refusing to do radio and promo and spent 23 hours shaking the hands of fans," states Marvin Baker.

Mr Baker is the chairman of radio station Cafe Nashville, which sits right in the heart of Music Row, up from the offices of BMI and across from Warner Bros.

"Garth is a champion of the fans. He's sold his tickets at the same price for years and lost millions as a result. I understand his position clearly about the five gigs or none at all and he'll stick to that."

Mr Brooks's colleague, Larry Pareigis, the man behind the legendary Dixie Chicks agrees.

"He could have chosen to do his come-back show anywhere in the world and he chooses Ireland. Whatever is going on there we don't know but for the sake of political viability and taking into account that there is no other stadium like Croke Park in Ireland I think if I was there I would find a way to make it happen," Mr Pareigis says.

Having spent now more than 72 hours in Camp Brooks I have been fully informed of his huge affection for Ireland.

There's a story in their circle of a night he played in The Point. He strummed the first few chords of a song and immediately the crowd picked up the tune and began to sing the words before the country legend uttered a single syllable.

"He picked up this big old cell-phone like the Ghostbusters one and rang his wife with tears in his eyes saying 'listen to this,', Bob Doyle, the 'Major' as he is known, tells me.

Having listened to the first verse in Dublin and heard the chorus of exasperation in downtown Nashville, it seems that Enda Kenny and his Government remain deeply wary of tampering with planning laws for the sake of a country singer and his fans.

But this story of loss and heartbreak, like an old-time Hank Williams song,is no longer just about the 52-year-old Brooks' comeback. It is now about a loss of more than €5m in VAT on ticket sales, the sacrifice of €15m in revenue for restaurants and some €21m that would have poured into the coffers of Dublin hoteliers.

It's also a fiasco that embarrasses the country.

And one more thing, the whole debacle has shone a spotlight on our rigid planning legislation, showing that there is no way to reverse a decision once it has been made.

"If the residents want it and if the residents that opposed it - that don't even live around Croke Park - have backed down, and if dozens of those letters of objection were fraudulent then who in Ireland is against these gigs?" a member of the Brooks brigade asks me.

I politely explain that emergency legislation, as I see it, is the only way forward at this point but I would not hold my breath.

They tell me they have no more time as the ship carrying the set makes landfall in Dublin early this week. Today Garth Brooks in the words of the legendary Hank Williams - is suffering 'Weary Blues from Waitin'.

Sunday Independent

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