Garth Brooks on the cover of PEOPLE
April 11, 2015 03:10 PM

Garth Brooks is trying to take his mind off the night ahead of him. Wearing a hoodie pulled over his head, the singer goes unrecognized as he tosses a football to a pal across the arena floor at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo. Concentrating on another perfect spiral, Brooks momentarily forgets the 19,000-strong crowd eagerly waiting outside for the doors to open for the first of the evening’s two sold-out concerts. “You try and stay busy as much as you can before a show, because if you don’t, you get uncontrollably nervous,” he explains two days later, relaxing at his studio in Nashville.

Though he’s been entertaining crowds for a quarter-century, it’s been 14 years since he last toured. And despite occasional concerts and a string of acoustic shows in Las Vegas on weekends, he’s still getting his road legs back. Pulling off a comeback after so long away had him “scared to death,” he admits. “What if nobody shows up?”

Fortunately, that’s one thing the 53-year-old country superstar doesn’t have to worry about. His world tour with wife Trisha Yearwood, 50, continues to break ticket-sale records in cities across the U.S.; his ninth studio album, Man Against Machine, has been certified platinum; and he’s up for what could likely be his seventh Entertainer of the Year Award at the Academy of Country Music Awards April 19. The singer also still holds the record as the bestselling solo artist in history, besting even Elvis.

Brooks admits he’s been overjoyed at fan response to his comeback, but he is also confident he made the right choice back in 2000 when he decided to retire and focus on being a full-time father to Taylor, August and Allie, his daughters from his first marriage, to Sandy Mahl. “People said, ‘How could you walk away from music?'” Brooks says. “But being a dad-there’s nothing that can touch that.”

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