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Garth Brooks: Let's finish this dance we started

Country music colossus ready to blow roof off Croke Park after shows axed in 2014

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Garth Brooks performs in Washington, DC, last year

Garth Brooks performs in Washington, DC, last year

Getty Images

Garth Brooks performs in Washington, DC, last year

It turns out that Garth Brooks’ fans in Northern Ireland left as much of a lasting impression on him, as he did on them.

But he could never have thought when he walked off the stage in Belfast in November, 1998, that it would be his last concert on the island of Ireland for almost a quarter of a century.

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Garth Brooks at the King's Hall in Belfast back in the 1990s

Garth Brooks at the King's Hall in Belfast back in the 1990s

Garth Brooks at the King's Hall in Belfast back in the 1990s

“What I remember most about my shows at the King’s Hall was that my ears were ringing for three days after them,” he told Sunday Life.

“We were almost at the end of that tour and it was something very special. The noise, the love I felt and the memories that we shared together. It’s always been home for us up there.

“And I know for people that there are boundaries and borders, for me they treated me the same there. So I enjoyed that, that’s as much a part of Ireland for us as Dublin is.

“They give you rules before you go out on how north is different from south, and forgive me for my ignorance not being from here, but I couldn’t tell the difference. It was just love. It was just loud. They knew the music, they knew everything.”

He’s no stranger to breaking records throughout his career, including selling more than Elvis Presley and The Beatles in the States, and his five-night stint in Belfast was another landmark.

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Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood at Jim Aiken's funeral in Belfast in 2007

Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood at Jim Aiken's funeral in Belfast in 2007

Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood at Jim Aiken's funeral in Belfast in 2007

He sold out 37,500 tickets in under four hours — an attendance record for both the venue and for Northern Ireland at the time — but next year will be the first time fans north or south will see the cowboy country star return to “finish this dance we started”.

“Did I think those Belfast shows would be my last in Ireland for so long? No sir,” said Garth.

“I mean, the last time I played Croke Park in 1997 was ungodly. And to play there again next year 25 years on, it’s been a long time coming.

“What’s it like to play here after what happened in 2014? It’s kind of like completing the circle, if that makes sense.

“I think the only thing that makes life troublesome, are the things you don’t complete. The dreams you leave unfilled. I thought that this would be one of those.

“So it was very sweet to get the call that goes, ‘Do you want to play?’” And the man making that phone call was Peter Aiken, son of Jonesborough-born showbusiness giant Jim Aiken, a trailblazer in music promotion much-loved by the artists he worked with and who was affectionately known as ‘Gentleman Jim’.

When he sadly passed away in 2007, Garth Brooks and his wife, singer Trisha Yearwood, cancelled all their engagements and flew to Belfast for his funeral.

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With wife Trisha Yearwood

With wife Trisha Yearwood

AFP via Getty Images

With wife Trisha Yearwood

Garth (59) said: “There were so many things that made Jim special. His integrity. His honesty. His generosity. He made me feel like a part of his family and I still feel like I am.

“Bod Doyle is my guy and he had a relationship with a gentleman called Jim Aiken — and for fun we always used to call him Jamaican — and the Aiken family.

“So Jim was the one that said, ‘We want to have you over here at a place called The Point.’

“I said, ‘Do they know who we are?’ and he said, ‘Oh yeah, you’ll be surprised.’

“But you know, every promoter says that and he goes, ‘I will be surprised if we don’t do multiple shows.’

“And that kind of threw us all off. Because country music is very American, it just is.

“But there was something in that music, something in those lyrics that goes way beyond any borders.

“And it was so sweet to come here and hear people sing your stuff louder than you and sing it totally on pitch, totally on time and they seem to know every word of every song, even the album cuts.

“And at that time I was married to the girls’ mom, Sandy, and I called her from the stage, this is what I remember, and I just told her, ‘You’re not going to believe this.’

“So her and the girls came back to Croke Park probably four years later in 1997 and they all got to witness it.

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FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES: David O’Dornan meets Garth Brooks

FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES: David O’Dornan meets Garth Brooks

FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES: David O’Dornan meets Garth Brooks

“So that’s what threw me off. I’m not from here, in fact I standout like a sore thumb here — so how come I feel like I’m home here?”

Central to his love affair with Ireland, though, is that rock-solid relationship with the Aiken family.

And when his 2014 concerts had to be pulled, Garth felt it as much for them as he did for himself, a “debacle” as he calls it, but a saga that Peter described at the time as causing him to suffer from stress.

Garth said: “We shared that pain together. Everything he felt I was feeling too and of course, we felt for the fans even more so.

“But I’m a fan of the Aiken family. I don’t know if any of you speak cowboy, but in the cowboy world there is a saying: ‘You hang with the mob you run with’. So good or bad, shoulder to shoulder you stand with them.

“I stand with the Aiken family and I will stand with the Aiken family as long as they will let me be a family member with them.

“So as much as I dearly loved Jim, it’s easy to love his son just as much. So it’s fun to get to be here, it’s fun to get to be part of this family.”

In 2014 Garth sold out an incredible 400,000 shows. As he explains it, they sold out Dublin so fast that people in Limerick couldn’t get tickets. So they added dates to make sure those fans didn’t miss out, with specific ticket sales measures for them for the extra dates.

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Singer Garth Brooks performs during the presidential inauguration for Joe Biden in Washington, DC. U.S,, in January 2021

Singer Garth Brooks performs during the presidential inauguration for Joe Biden in Washington, DC. U.S,, in January 2021

Singer Garth Brooks performs during the presidential inauguration for Joe Biden in Washington, DC. U.S,, in January 2021

But then the plug was pulled on what had become a five-show extravaganza when Dublin City Council announced it was only granting a licence for three of the planned gigs at Croker.

The stand-off saw Garth wanting to do all the gigs or none at all, as he didn’t think it would be fair to fans, even if they took two of the shows to a different city.

He explained: “We were lucky enough to have that offered to us, Peter Aiken was one of those guys that was trying to figure out an answer.

“It was very sweet but once you have been given the goblet, once you’ve been given the prize, the trophy — that’s kind of all you can think about.

“I probably understood as much as I could what was happening in 2014, but at the same time here, you probably couldn’t understand it was like a death in the family to us. Man that hurt — hurt, hurt, hurt.

“So, my thing is to just try and not get emotional, because it’s still very fresh for me. It’s like something I had never experienced and one of those things where you go, ‘Surely this isn’t going to end this way, right?’

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Promoter Jim Aiken

Promoter Jim Aiken

Promoter Jim Aiken

“We either all win together or we all lose together. So I chose the latter because I couldn’t find a fair way to do it.

“So when you’re the fun place to play and you’re the party, it’s tough when you don’t get to go to the party. There are things that make things how they are and with Ireland it is its people.

“And so the fact that you didn’t get to do five but now they call you and say the five is yours, that to me completes the circle and it would be nice to complete.

“Because in my life I’ve got chapters that I like to complete and this was going to be one that was forever open, but now the chance to close it is here and I’m going to take it.”

Garth has promised that every show experience at his five concerts next year will be different but fans will still be treated to all the hits, from Friends In Low Places to The Thunder Rolls, from If Tomorrow Never Comes to the one he considers his biggest crowd-pleaser, Callin’ Baton Rouge.

He added: “It’s the greatest privilege and the greatest joy an artist can have to play Ireland — it’s the greatest heartache to be told that you can’t.

“This has been a roller-coaster ride for me but the stadium tour will end in what I have told everybody who will listen is the greatest place to play music. And the fact that it’s Croke Park makes it even better.

“For anybody who had a ticket last time, I’d like to get together and finish this dance we started.”


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