Friday 6 December 2019

Fans have been let down by the system but they've also been let down by Garth Brooks

Garth Brooks
Garth Brooks

SOMETIMES we can be such a nation of cowboys. So it's hardly surprising that Ireland's buck-eejit organisational skills have put the world's most famous buckaroo on the warpath.

Garth Brooks is either steaming, sulking or sobbing his heart out about the Croke Park debacle. One way or another, the man in the black ten-gallon hat has decided it's no dice for any Irish concerts.

Those five back-to-backs gigs have become the most talked-about shows since the Elvis Comeback special in 1968. And no wonder, because Brooks's record sales are eclipsed only by Presley's.

There he is on his ranch in Tulsa, Oklahoma, all but packed to hit the trail for Ireland, when news of an almighty wrangle reaches him. And the long and the short of it is he's pulled out of all the concerts. Even the ones for which a licence has been granted.

In a world where people are expected to suck up any amount of disrespect, provided there's cash on the table, his decision to call a halt to the charade is almost admirable.

Almost. You see, Brooks isn't the only one infuriated, exasperated, disappointed and mystified by our planning and licensing procedures. Some 400,000 fans who have paid hard-earned money for their tickets share his emotional rollercoaster response. Those 400,000 people amount to 1 in 10 of the population – let's be fair, this isn't some minor gig for a few diehards. It's one heck of a big rodeo.

The fans have been let down by a system which is unfit for purpose. Equally, they've been let down by the man in the hat. Brooks was unyielding, to put it mildly, when he said it was five shows or none. Aut Caesar, aut nihil, as Cesare Borgia's motto had it. All or nothing. Compromise is for sissies.

But the middle ground is the space occupied by real men (and women). They don't see it as a half-measure, they understand it's about being flexible.

Besides, the 52-year-old country star was willing initially to play two shows before it ballooned to five. If he was happy with two at the start of the year, his five-or-bust position rings hollow today.

The saga has aroused passions to an extent that's reminiscent of the Saipan Sulk all over again. This time, it's country versus city – or country music lovers versus the city authority – rather than pro- and anti-Roy Keane factions.

I'd like to believe Brooks is punishing himself more than his fans, just as Keane did, but unfortunately I suspect the singer will channel any residual angst or pique into writing a song. Emotion is never wasted in his line of business.

Speaking of his profession, in some quarters a certain sneering attitude towards his music is detectable; a sense that country music occupies a mawkish world of honky tonk bars inhabited with honky tonk women, who ease the loneliness of cowboys from the wrong side of the tracks. But there is no doubt that Brooks' music strikes a chord, particularly with Irish fans.

They stampeded for tickets – well and truly bitten by the Brooks Bug. Tickets sold out in 20 minutes for the first two shows.

A third date was added and sold out in 15 minutes. Then a fourth date was added, followed by a fifth. It took 50 minutes for the fifth gig to sell out, at which stage a halt was called. Other acts must look on and marvel. However, as far back as the middle of February there were warning signs that Croke Park residents had a problem with so many shows. That's when the mediation needed to begin.

Was there an attempt by the promoters, as well as the curiously silent GAA, to use Brooks' popularity as leverage against those who live in the shadow of Croke Park?

Presumably, this chronicle will end up as a case study on mediation courses – an example of how not to proceed. We can't call it a disaster or a calamity, because nobody's dead, but we can call it unfortunate. It didn't have to be this way.

Let's consider the fallout. The cancellations are a loss to the Dublin economy. But the money hasn't vanished – it's disposable income which is likely to be spent elsewhere in local economies around the country. Some tourists were due in, but not planeloads, so it's doubtful if the tourism sector will suffer excessively.

Some people are self-flagellating about the damage to Brand Ireland, and whether we've made a holy show of ourselves yet again. Quite honestly, I doubt if the rest of the world is particularly bothered, apart from regarding it as a minor curiosity. Meanwhile, Dublin's Lord Mayor Christy Burke has said the nation is saddened. No harm to his lordship, or his eminence, or however such dignitaries ought to be addressed, but that might be overstating the case. Let's all simply agree that it's a darned shame.

Can the concerts be saved? Even now? Perhaps oil might be poured on troubled waters by telling Brooks that he's wanted here. Clearly, as industrial relations guru Kieran Mulvey has said, he feels unwelcome.

But no nation should get down on bended knee to any artist, no matter how many ticket sales he can generate.

Finally, we've learned an important lesson: our planning laws for concerts are in a state of chassis and need to be overhauled. But maybe Garth Brooks could learn something, too.

Nobody denies that he's entitled to be on his high horse – but it's not too late to climb down and think of his fans.

Martina Devlin

Irish Independent

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