Garth Brooks, you are welcome here. But no drama, please – we’ve been through too much

After the Covid crisis and Electric Picnic uncertainty, we can’t handle a year of Garth-guessing

No sooner has Electric Picnic sank from view than Brooks has popped up to once again to potentially stalk our every waking moment. Photograph: J Kempin/FilmMagic

No sooner has Electric Picnic sank from view than Brooks has popped up to once again to potentially stalk our every waking moment. Photograph: J Kempin/FilmMagic

 

Hold on to your Stetsons. Garth Brooks is poised to fill the Electric Picnic-shaped void in the news cycle. The country megastar is rumoured to be planning a return to Croke Park, a venue still haunted by the memory of his five cancelled gigs from 2014.

But is this really a good moment for another Garth Brooks drama? We’ve only just come through the circus of whether Electric Picnic would go ahead in 2021. Finally, that’s behind us, with confirmation the festival has been put back to next summer. The soap opera is over. Electric Picnic has retreated into the Co Laois woods. A great weight has lifted from Irish Twitter.

Philip K Dick and Black Mirror had nothing on the dystopia that was Ireland at peak Garth Brooks discourse

And now here comes Brooks in its place. You will, of course, remember the saga of seven years ago. Brooks sold more than 400,000 tickets for what was to be a feature-length victory lap of Croke Park, scene of his historic three-night whammy in May 1997. And then the wagon wheels came off as two of the five shows were denied a licence by Dublin City Council.

Brooks, who is now 59, responded by pulling all of the dates. (Why am I telling you this when you know every last detail already?) By which point the back-and-forth had consumed the country. It was as if normal existence had ceased and we were instead all trapped inside a never-ending edition of Joe Duffy’s Liveline.

Barack Obama’s White House was even forced to deny speculation that it was set to mediate. Philip K Dick and Black Mirror had nothing on the dystopia that was Ireland at peak Garth Brooks discourse.

Life was likewise starting to feel pretty dystopian, as the debate about Electric Picnic 2021 rumbled on and on in recent months. It was the Garth Brooks sequel for which nobody had asked, the spectre of Picture This bestriding Stradbally replacing that of Brooks cupping Croker in the palm of his hands.

Yet no sooner has the Picnic sunk from view than Brooks has popped up to once again to potentially stalk our every waking moment. That is with the caveat that details around potential Croke Park gigs are massively sketchy. There is no official confirmation from either the promoters or Brooks himself.

But if the speculation is accurate, the hope must surely be that he jets in, plays his shows and thrills his fans without unduly discommoding those living in the vicinity of Croke Park. And that the whole affair does not devolve into a stand-off between the various stakeholders.

After coronavirus, the Mayo curse and the return of Jedward to the airwaves, haven’t we all been through enough?

The other hope must be, of course, that those who like Garth Brooks are allowed to do so without being made to feel as if they have something for which to apologise. Alas, that is probably wishful thinking.

Brooks was widely shunned by country purists as a mere pop star. His sin was to write songs that were cheerfully catchy and whose shiny production made them come over brash and buoyant on radio

For as long as Garth Brooks has been adored in Ireland, there has been a minority who take joy in proclaiming their bafflement at his popularity here.

The roots of that cultural cringe go back to 1997, when he took over Croke Park for three nights. Those who were there will remember it vividly. Brooks grew up in Yukon, Oklahoma, yet Dublin felt like a sort of homecoming as he capered through his hit Friends in Low Places alongside covers of Don McLean’s American Pie and Fever by Aerosmith.

Brooks was at the time widely shunned by country purists as a mere pop star. His original sin was to write songs that were cheerfully catchy and which, thanks to their shiny production, came over brash and buoyant on radio.

But it’s a myth to say that he was only beloved in North America and Ireland: in 1994, for instance, he filled Wembley Arena in London and the NEC in Birmingham.

Yet Ireland’s special relationship with Brooks was undeniable. On that 1997 tour he played just three markets: the United States, Canada and Ireland.

With hindsight, however, this merely marked Ireland out as being ahead of the curve. Country music of the glossy commercial variety pioneered by Brooks has gone on to become a global juggernaut.

Each year, for instance, the Country 2 Country festival brings to London, Glasgow and Dublin mainstream country artists such as Brad Paisley, Luke Bryan and Rascal Flatts. They are unambiguously following in the footsteps of Brooks in that they’re as much pop as country and command a massively loyal fanbase.

So the idea that in 2021 a passion for mainstream country music marks Ireland out as an international aberration has long since been debunked. Garth Brooks’s music is what it is – and hugely beloved across the world. And if he finds a way to make Croke Park a reality, then all there is to be done is to hope anyone forking out for tickets has the night of their lives. There’s really no need for anyone else to get caught up in it.

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