Ireland and Garth Brooks: a love story

The two Croke Park concerts announced this week take us back to the 1990s and the line-dancing craze

‘He’s actually as sincere as you get. He just likes doing it. People get that connection.’ Garth Brooks meeting Irish fans this week. Photograph: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

‘He’s actually as sincere as you get. He just likes doing it. People get that connection.’ Garth Brooks meeting Irish fans this week. Photograph: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Tue, Jan 21, 2014, 17:26

If anyone buried a pop- culture time capsule in 1990s Ireland, it would make for a strange reminder. Plaid shirts, cowboy boots and belt buckles are artefacts of a religion whose everyman leader – although not exactly a line-dancer – was Garth Brooks. The love for Brooks was reignited this week as the singer announced two concerts at Croke Park in July.

In 1990s Ireland, line-dancing crossed generation gaps. Nursing homes included it as an activity. Schools added it to the PE schedule. Fiftysomethings bored of nights spent in the corner of the pub stampeded to parish halls for lessons. Country crossover records blared in local nightclubs.

Joe Harrington is the general manager at Dublin country music radio station Sunshine 106.8. The last time Brooks played Croker, in 1997, Harrington was working at East Coast FM in Wicklow. “He visited the station and came out to Bray. We weren’t expecting many people to turn up, but thousands did. He insisted on getting up on a van outside even though it was misty and slippy and his minders were telling him not to.”

It’s Brooks’s perceived common touch that Harrington thinks appeals to country fans, much in the same way Bruce Springsteen’s demeanour makes rock fans go wild. “I was talking to him on Monday, and he’s actually as sincere as you get. He just likes doing it. People get that connection.”

The too-cool-for-school commentary on social media about Brooks when the gigs were announced also tells of an urban-rural divide when it comes to country music.

“Outside of Dublin, people like country music done well,” says Harrington. “It’s a rural thing with a bit of an urban cross. People just love it.”

And there’s also a sense that, in an era of depleting male music stars, Brooks is one of the big nostalgic names that can seek to command a crowd almost as massive as One Direction’s. There’s gold in them there tunes, not to mention the pink cowboy hat industry.

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