Editor’s note: Welcome to Garth Week. The USA TODAY Network sat down with Garth Brooks ahead of his unprecedented seventh Entertainer of the Year win at last week's CMA Awards in Nashville. Over the course of several hours, Brooks, in his own words, chronicled his rise from a young man in Oklahoma to one of the biggest stars in country music history. His seven-vinyl album and seven-CD “LEGACY” package will be in stores for Black Friday, and his two-part A&E biography, “Garth Brooks: The Road I’m On,” premieres at 9 p.m. EST Dec. 2-3. This is the fifth part in a five-part series.
Garth Brooks was afraid. After being semi-retired for 14 years, he wasn't convinced he could jump back into mainstream country music and touring at a level with which he was confident. Things had changed since 2000, when he announced his retirement, and his last big tour was two years before that.
In 1998, cellphones weren't predominant. Facebook didn't exist, and music streaming services were years away.
If his comeback failed in 2014, there was no way to hide it.
"I was scared nobody would show up, scared to death," Brooks said. "Because, you don't want to disappoint people. That's the whole thing. And you sure as hell don't want them walking out going, 'Poor Garth. But, man in his day.' I wanted them to say, 'That's better than I remember it.' "
Brooks wanted to launch his comeback in Ireland, a country he fell in love with after a run of popular, raucous concerts in 1994. The shows were scheduled for July 2014. Due to his popularity, Brooks' first concert at Croke Park — which seats about 80,000 people — grew to two shows, eventually topping out at five concerts. More than 400,000 tickets were sold. However, Dublin City Council refused licenses for two of the five concerts due to concerns over traffic, noise and rowdy behavior.
The singer said he'd do whatever it took, including flying to Ireland to speak with government officials, to make the shows happen. The city council wouldn't budge. They said he could play three concerts. Brooks said he would play five concerts — or none. He refused to choose which of the 400,000 fans got to see him in concert.
"As far as those 400,000 Irish angels who showed up for me and fought for me, I handled that situation the only way I knew how," Brooks said in his A&E documentary. "We invited the Irish to come to America."
Chicago was the first stop on Brooks' comeback tour. Officially called the "Garth Brooks World Tour with Trisha Yearwood," the run stretched from 2014 to 2017. The first show at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois, sold out in seconds, and concerts were added to meet consumer demand. He sold 180,000 tickets in three hours for shows that stretched over 10 days.
Ahead of the tour, Brooks and Yearwood combined their band and crews to create a super team of sorts that was at the ready by the time the "Garth Brooks World Tour with Trisha Yearwood" launched in September 2014.
For Brooks, opening night was a blur.
"I was so scared," he reiterated. "When music is playing, something happens to me. I don't know what to do. Stupid is a good word."
Laughing, he painfully remembered that the orb that encased his drummer on stage was spinning. Brooks thought that if he grabbed the ball, he could ride it around to the other side of the stage. What he didn't know was that the ball was coated in fiberglass. As soon as he was off the ground clinging to the stage prop, he noticed blood running from his hand down to his wrist.
Brooks hopped off as soon as he could. When he did, he busted his knee on the side of the stage, and that started bleeding, too.
"I'm thinking, 'This is just getting worse,' " he recalled. "So when I got in the car that night, my wife goes, 'What happened?' I said, 'I don't know, but it was cool.' "
The tour encompassed three years and 390 shows. Fans bought 6.4 million tickets at a gross of $364 million.
Brooks was nominated for Entertainer of the Year at the CMA Awards — the awards show's top honor — in 2015. He didn't win, but he did take home the trophy in 2016 and 2017.
As for new music, Brooks released "Man Against Machine," his first album of all-new material in 13 years, in 2014. "Gunslinger" came out in 2016 and is home to Brooks' most recent No. 1 song, "Ask Me How I Know." His duet with Blake Shelton — "Dive Bar" — is now on country radio.
Brooks didn't tour in 2018 but mounted his "Garth Brooks Stadium Tour" in 2019. The first year of the tour wrapped in front of 84,000 fans at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee, last week — days after the singer was named Entertainer of the Year by the Country Music Association for a record-breaking seventh time. It was the first concert in the stadium in 16 years.
"How's everybody doing?" Brooks asked the thunderous crowd. "Thanks for letting me come to the home of the Volunteers to play music.
"It's been a big, big week," he continued. "I sat through that whole awards show knowing that no matter what happened, I had this waiting for me."