On Nashville's Most Hallowed Stage, Garth Brooks Stokes Talk of an Upcoming Concert Residency

Accompanied by just his guitar, the superstar entertains two nights at Ryman Auditorium with over 50 songs and storytelling about his celebrated career

Garth Brooks returned to Nashville's hallowed Ryman Auditorium for his first full concerts there in five years, and on Friday night — his first of two shows — he announced this may be only the beginning.

"We're talking about why we're here," he told the crowd about 20 minutes after the show's start. "What we're looking at: The stadium tour ends in '22 ... and after that, we're trying to figure what we're gonna do for the next phase of our career. You know ... you never know what's gonna happen, and we're talking about doing a residency like this here. So we're just trying out and seeing. I like the big stadium thing. I love the dive bar thing. I like the arena thing. This thing right here is kind of getting to do whatever you want whenever you want to do it."

For Brooks, getting to do whatever he wants translated, on Friday night, into 142 minutes of just a man and his guitar, having the time of his life singing and telling stories. Of course, any Garth watcher knows that means the show was closely akin to his legendary one-man residency, from 2009 to 2014, at the Wynn Las Vegas — but then, what's wrong with that? Brooks knows if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

The night began with Brooks simply walking on stage, signaling the show's informal vibe with his attire. No fancy cowboy hat and dress shirt here. This was a baseball cap and an Oklahoma State T-shirt-over-hoodie kind of evening.

"From here forward," he declared, "it's unscripted," and the crowd roared with delight.

Garth Brooks
Garth Brooks. Ben Krebs for 8 Ten, Inc.

Forced off his stadium tour by the COVID-19 surge, Brooks announced the Ryman concerts a month ago, and the limited tickets, each $250, sold out in a heartbeat. (He added a third show, on Thursday night, at the Grand Ole Opry House.) Brooks last performed a full show at the Ryman back in 2016 to launch the Garth Channel on SiriusXM, which was, incredibly, the first time he headlined there.

At that time, he explained why it took so long: "Scared to death." He was simply daunted, he said, by the building's place in country history and the heroes who've graced its boards, and for a time, even his plaque in the Country Music Hall of Fame — hung in 2012 — couldn't quite get him over the hump.

On Friday night, Brooks was still extravagantly worshipful of the space. "People, we are in the Mother Church of Country Music," he said early in the evening. "Forget about the artist that stands on this stage. Nothing but respect happens in this house."

But Brooks also clearly showed he's found a home here, making it so on his entrance when he sang his first two songs as a soundcheck now that warm bodies were filling the pews.

"The show has not started yet," he announced before delivering a flawless a cappella "Against the Wind" and his Keith Whitley favorite, "Don't Close Your Eyes."

"The show now officially starts," he declared at the finish after getting a high sign from his balcony sound crew.

Garth Brooks
Garth Brooks. Ben Krebs for 8 Ten, Inc.

What followed was Brooks' expansive narrative, in songs and stories, of the Making of Garth, from his early country influences — Whitley, Randy Travis, Ricky Skaggs, and of course, George Strait — to the profound moment when Strait himself ushered Brooks into the Hall of Fame.

Over the course of the evening, Brooks wove the strands of his story with a selection of over 50 songs, including five of Strait's. Many of the performances were no more than a few familiar first bars, but each spoke to the sounds that have fed Brooks' fertile mind over the years and helped explain the music he's made.

After singing James Taylor's "Carolina in My Mind," for instance, he told how an early Nashville co-write with Victoria Shaw began with his idea: "Hey, man, let's write a James Taylor song."

Brooks then launched into the fruit of that session, signature song "The River." (Later, he noted that Taylor also showed up at that Hall of Fame induction to sing this song.)

Garth Brooks
Garth Brooks. Ben Krebs for 8 Ten, Inc.

Brooks drew other lines between his works and the music of Bob Seger, Elton John, Jim Croce, Dan Fogelberg, George Jones, Bill Withers, Otis Redding, Cat Stevens, Billy Joel and more, punching up at least a snippet of a song from each.

It could have all felt like a campfire sing-along, except that here, Brooks was the fire. And it was his own catalogue that truly set the room ablaze, from his biggest crowd-pleasers ("The Thunder Rolls," "Callin' Baton Rouge," "Friends in Low Places," "The Dance") to his deeper cuts ("In Lonesome Dove," "The Change," and even his first Nashville write, "Which One of Them").

Ninety minutes into the show, Brooks asked, "How in the world can things get better?" and then answered it by bringing out his wife, Trisha Yearwood, for the next six songs. She took solo turns on signature hits "Walkaway Joe" and "She's in Love With the Boy," and the couple combined for George Jones and Tammy Wynette's "Golden Ring"; their own hit duets, "Shallow" and "In Another's Eyes"; and "The Ship and the Bottle," a 2018 Brett Young album cut that they'd never performed before.

The unexpected song choice was among several singular moments that gave the entire show a one-of-a-kind feel. Others arrived when Brooks attempted two completely outside-the-box covers, Little Big Town's "Girl Crush" and Ed Sheeran's "Perfect." On both, the crowd knew the lyrics better than Brooks, but the fact he even tried still brought an outpouring of love.

Garth Brooks
Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks with a young fan. Ben Krebs for 8 Ten, Inc.

Brooks capped the night with a five-song encore, which included an audience request for "She's Every Woman." He happily obliged after learning he'd be serenading a surprise front-row marriage proposal, and the bride-to-be flashed her ring to the crowd as the song was ending.

With the two Ryman concerts now complete, will there be a true Mother Church residency in Brooks' future? As with all things Garth, that answer will have to await a big-buildup announcement. Talk has already been swirling about another Las Vegas residency, and Yearwood is on the record for wanting her husband to do Broadway, a la Springsteen.

But the Ryman holds its own mystical seductive power, and on this Friday night, it was clear that Brooks was completely under its sway.

There were several moments when he abandoned his guitar strings, flung his arms wide, threw back his head and seemed to simply revel in the sound of his voice in one of the world's greatest acoustic spaces. No one in the room was enjoying this show more than Garth Brooks.

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