Family affair

With charm and hits, Garth Brooks makes the Orlando concert a family affair

It was a family affair Saturday night at Camping World Stadium as country superstar Garth Brooks welcomed a surprise guest on stage: his wife, Trisha Yearwood, a country star in her own right.

Yearwood – whom Brooks had previously called “the coolest chick on the planet” – appeared to join Brooks on their duet “Shallow”, then performed his hit “Walkaway Joe”, with Brooks providing guitar backing and backing vocals. vocal harmonies.

About 70,000 fans packed the Orlando stadium on a night of perfect weather to hear Brooks’ familiar twang on hits like “That Summer,” “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)” and a deliciously honky-tonking “Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House.”

Brooks was as excited as the crowd, saying he had spent two years “talking and dreaming” about a return to live performance.

“I’m tired of talking,” he told the audience at the start of the more than two hour show. “I say we’re going straight to hell!”

Brooks’ concert was organized in the round, which allowed the star to move, with a dozen musicians and backup singers. With video screens facing all four sides of the stands, the concept worked well – except for the occasional blinding spotlight on the face, a necessary evil of staging in the round.

Brooks was full of compliments for the audience – moved to laughs, gasps and exclamations of praise for the crowd’s enthusiastic reaction. With decades of touring under his belt, it’s hard to guess how many times he’s gushed the same way, but a big part of his charm is how genuinely excited and grateful he appears.

Even a sea of ​​cellphones, unleashed by the crowd during “The River,” brought a look of amazement and joy to her face. “Yeah, turn them on,” he said. “So beautiful.”

He played on the opener “Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)” and blasted the distinctive guitar chords of “The Thunder Rolls”. But Brooks was just as comfortable with a tender “Unanswered Prayers”, accompanied only by his lead guitar.

Special effects puffed things up here and there. As fans chanted “Two Piña Coladas,” raising two fingers at the cue, video screens around the upper level of the stadium depicted coconut trees. Later, these screens would be filled with flames, as dramatic red lighting and smoke effects accompanied a searing “Standing Outside the Fire”.

Confetti and streamers accompanied loud chanting to an extended version of “Friends in Low Places” — the song that “everyone knows the lyrics to,” according to Brooks (and the crowd enthusiastically backed him up).

Singing was a recurring theme. During his encore set, Brooks even fielded requests from the audience, as usual, which led to rowdy renditions of David Allan Coe’s “You Never Even Called Me By My Name” and “American Pie.” by Don McLean.

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“I love other people’s stuff,” said Brooks, who also covered Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” brilliantly.

Despite forays into other singers’ catalogs, he hasn’t skimped on his own hit parade: digging deep into “Shameless”, flying through exuberant “Callin’ Baton Rouge”, demonstrating why he’s a master storyteller. on the best country ghost. tale, “The Beaches of Cheyenne”.

Despite the huge space, Brooks was able to insert personal touches to create a sense of intimacy: singing “Every Now and Then” for fan Misty, wishing Amy a happy birthday, hugging a young child.

The most touching moment, however, came when Brooks acknowledged “everything going on in the world today” and sang a heartfelt cover of Ed McCurdy’s anti-war plea, “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream”.

Brooks repeatedly recalled his early career performance at The Barn in Sanford, and couldn’t resist another compliment for the Orlando audience: “You know your country music inside and out. “

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this review did not clearly identify the origin of “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream”. It was written in 1950 by folk singer Ed McCurdy and has been covered by several successful artists, including Simon & Garfunkel.

Find me on Twitter @matt_on_arts, facebook.com/matthew.j.palm or write to me at [email protected]. Want more theater and arts news and reviews? Go to orlandosentinel.com/arts. For more fun things, follow @fun.things.orlando on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.