T-shirts about Tennessee whiskey. Street vendors hawking cowboy hats. Drunken renditions of “Friends in Low Places.”
All of this might be typical for a Friday night in downtown Nashville. But it’s a rarer occurrence in Dublin — until Garth Brooks comes to town.
For five nights, over two weekends, Brooks is playing in Ireland’s largest stadium, and for the first time in 25 years. And the 400,000 or so fans who snagged tickets seem determined to make the most of it.
“Just the buzz about the place is amazing. Everyone’s singing, dancing, having great fun,” Jim Finglas said. “Everyone’s in their checked shirts, Stetson hats, the old cowboy boots.”
Finglas bought a cowboy hat online and wore it with a plaid button-down. In case there was any doubt about whose style he was trying to model, he also wore a custom shirt adorned with Brooks’ likeness, in which Brooks, too, wore a cowboy hat and plaid shirt.
“You have to get into the spirit of these things. There’s no point in only half doing it,” he said.
Ireland’s love affair with Garth began in the 1990s, the decade when line dancing became all the rage in Irish pubs. Louise Donohoe was too young to go to Brooks’ last stadium show in 1997, but plenty of her family members did. The show was so epic that it became a Christmas tradition to rewatch it.
“It was always a thing that we’d end up at the end of the night singing Garth Brooks songs, or we’d be watching that video and reliving it. It was kind of like being there last night, being in that recording,” she said.
Donohoe carried on the family tradition by taking her daughter to one show. But when I ask her if she follows other country music artists, she laughs. No. It’s just Garth.
“I just think Irish people take him as our own. We just have this affinity for him, and we can’t help it.”
But as with any love affair, there’s been some angst. In 2014, he cancelled his world tour stop in Dublin because he couldn’t get permission to perform a full five-night set. That was a heartbreaker to fans like Finglas.
“At the time, I said, ‘If he comes again, I’m not going to see him now, because he canceled the gigs,’ ” he said. “But once he came, it was sort of, ‘Ah, we’re going, that’s it.’ All was forgiven.”
So far, Brooks seems to be relishing the reconciliation. On his opening night at Croke Park, the singer wrapped himself in an Irish flag and wept several times. At one point he fell to his knees and lifted his hands in the air. The crowd went wild.
I observed to Finglas that the Irish seem more emotional about Garth than they do about the recent death of Queen Elizabeth II. He shrugged.
“Well, he is the king. He’s the king of country music,” he said. “I don’t mind the queen. She’s gone. Long live Garth.”