Today I met Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood at a press conference. I wrote this piece last week but forgot to "publish" it on the City Paper site before rushing out of town. And now that I'm writing a different Garth piece, this seems more fitting for the blog anyway.
Looking back, the music of Garth Brooks immediately makes me nostalgic for my high school days and early college years. This was in the mid-’90s, the last golden era of country radio — when Alan Jackson built a pyramid of cans in the pale moonlight, Patty Loveless tried to think about Elvis, and John Michael Montgomery went down to the Grundy County Auction. But, arguably, the king of ’90s country was none other than Garth Brooks, whose “Friends in Low Places” became the barroom anthem in every dive throughout the South and beyond.
I have a bunch of Garth-related memories that remain fond, if progressively vague. But my two favorite memories both date back to ’97, the last year that I could really stomach country radio — or any radio station for that matter. The first was a particularly late night in Clemson when a group of us piled in someone’s boat and drunkenly sailed off to a lakefront bar. It’s one of those what-was-I-thinking recollections many of us cringe over as adults. Thankfully, we lived to tell about it, and now I can enjoy remembering this: a symphony of teenage fools mercilessly screaming the words “I’ll be as high as that ivory tower” into the night at the tip-tops of our lungs. That was one helluva summer filled with fake IDs, Bud Light, and yes, the country croons of the likes of Garth.
Later that summer, I drove to New York to visit an ex, my first serious boyfriend. We'd just broken up, and our final goodbye would happen on the Big Lawn in the middle of Manhattan.
That night the singer played to nearly a million (for real) fans on a perfectly clear summer night. Brooks declared he was there to raise some hell, and I was there for essentially the same reason.
Some unforgettable guest performers were there too: Billy Joel, who created the first tape I ever bought (An Innocent Man) and Don McClean, whose “American Pie” was and remains my go-to Waffle House jukebox track.
I can’t recall exactly how every other detail of the concert went down — it was crowded and I was thirsty, I know that much — but the song that stood out the most was “The Dance.” Having gone through my very first serious breakup that summer, my teenage emotions got the best of me as Brooks sang those dramatic words that seared through my heart, “For a moment, all the world was right/ How was I to know, that you’d ever say goodbye/ And now, I'm glad I didn't know, the way it all would end, the way it all would go/ Our lives are better left to chance/ We could've missed the pain, but I'd have had to miss the Dance”
Many years later, I moved to the Big Apple for a stint. And sometimes, during my frequent runs through Central Park, I’d look back on that show and wonder things like, where did we stand that night? And, how did I survive that drive from Carolina alone with no cell phone or digital GPS in existence? Who knew I’d wind up living here and with much different taste in music? No longer was I the naive teen trying to survive a puppy love breakup with the help of a country song.
But a country song sure don't hurt. That’s why, to this day, if there’s the right amount of beer involved and a karaoke machine in sight, I still don’t mind belting out a little song that reminds me of home. Blame it all my roots.