If it hasn’t already become abundantly clear to his fans in the Carolinas, Garth Brooks is really, really, really determined to perform a live show in Charlotte as soon as it’s possible (and safe) to do so.
Pre-COVID, the country-music megastar was scheduled to bring his “Stadium Tour” to Bank of America Stadium on May 2. But as the pandemic set in and other artists rescheduled shows for 2021 or shelved tours indefinitely, Brooks kept trying to anticipate a relatively rapid return to big shows — without success.
He pushed to June 13, but that was way too soon. He tried Oct. 10, and that didn’t work out either. Now it’s on the calendar for April 10, 2021. No other major show has tried this hard to stay on the calendar this year.
“A hard-headedness. Stubbornness. Whatever you want to call it,” the 58-year-old singer explained to The Observer about the parade of attempts to play, with a laugh. He spoke Wednesday afternoon in a phone interview just a few days ahead of the release of his first new studio album in four years, titled “Fun.”
“You gotta remember, man, there’s a beautiful kind of a love story between me and Charlotte,” Brooks said. “It might just be from my side. But we saved Charlotte to the very last of the ’98 world tour, and just fell in love with Charlotte.
“It just had a new arena (the Charlotte Coliseum) at that time, where the Hornets were playing. Big-ass arena. And so when we came on the comeback tour, 2014 through ’17, I kept asking Ben (Farrell), the promoter, ‘Hey, where’s Charlotte?’ And he says, ‘Garth, we’re just having the hardest time fitting the schedule. We missed it.’
In other words, it’s been more than 20 years since he has played Charlotte, and he was “fired up” to see that it finally worked out schedule-wise, and that the North Carolina date would be early in the tour.
“And now it’s up there in limbo,” Brooks lamented. “This pandemic, I’m sure it affects everybody in their own different way. But it’s been kind of sneaky and just kind of ironic for me that some of the dates that are on hold right now are dates that we’ve been looking to for, like I said, 20-something years.”
Hurrying up and waiting is familiar to Brooks, who started teasing his new album more than two years ago and has seemed to be on the verge of releasing it multiple times. The 14-track album finally drops this Friday, alongside “Triple Live Deluxe,” a re-release of a collection of songs from Brooks’ 2014-17 “World Tour” that adds bonus tracks culled from his 2019 “Stadium Tour.”
In Wednesday’s interview, Brooks talked about “Fun,” what it’s like to participate in drive-in concerts as a performer, whether he thinks Lady Gaga can sing better than his wife, Trisha Yearwood, and why he might not last long when he finally does make it onto the stage in Charlotte.
(The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.)
Q. So what’s it been like to not tour?
A. Well, it’s the longest I’ve ever gone that wasn’t my choice, I can tell you that. (Laughing.) We retired in ’98 and didn’t tour again till ’14, so we were raising our babies. But that’s still your choice. And if you have children, then you know that you’re leaving something you love, like music, for something you love even more, like children.
But then when you get to come back and get to do it, and now you’re running, and the “Stadium Tour” is rolling like gangbusters and all of a sudden the red light comes on, I think that’s what got everybody, was this wasn’t your choice. And that’s why it’s frustrating to everybody. This was nobody’s choice.
So everybody — music or not — has had to kind of stop what they do and try and reinvent another way to do it. But the truth is, all we’re doing in the music industry is just reinventing and reinventing until we can get back to what we know. And that’s what everybody’s waiting on.
Q. Part of that reinvention, of course, was the drive-in concert you did in June. You were the first one to do it in as a big a way as you did it. And I’m curious about this: You’re used to performing in front of 100,000 people. So what was it like to perform for basically zero people for the drive-in show you recorded? How did you try to compensate for the absence of the type of energy that a crowd creates?
A. Well, that was the big hole. ... That’s the fun thing about a Garth show is you start a song, and the crowd takes it over, I watch ‘em. Start the next one, the crowd takes it over, you watch them. And it’s so much fun.
So now doing it without them was a real eye-opener for me. I’m sitting out there going, ‘Damn, I’m working my big ass off.’ I’m going left, right, but they’re not there carrying the load for me — until I simply closed my eyes. And then they were there. And man, it took me about a song and a half to figure it out. And sure enough, man, it was cool for the people that went to see it at the drive-in theater, and they carried the load from their trucks and cars and it was a fun experience.
But I’d be fine if I never did it again because I’d much rather trade in the real thing. That’s the most joy is being in the same room.
Q. How do you think the pandemic will have changed concertgoers’ habits, and how do you think artists will need to adapt? Or what are some of the lessons you might have learned as an artist that you’ll take with you when you get back out on the road?
A. Yeah. How ’bout gratefulness? How ’bout just the gratefulness that these people show up? Hopefully it’ll open the eyes of all of us artists, to how much of a pain in the ass it is for people to come make you happy. These people go through hell to get there, from on-sale day to traveling, to traveling after the show, just so you can have the time of your life on stage. ...
I think the fact that we get to live with each other this close is something we’ve all taken for granted. So what I’m hoping is that we love each other more, walking out of that stadium and going, “Hey, you know what? I know we used to gripe a lot, but this being together is a hell of a lot better than being apart.”
As far as technology, I think you’re gonna see virtual reality become a part of everybody’s concert, ’cause there’s gonna be people that come and people that don’t want to come because they’re just scared. So I think virtual reality’s gonna become an arm of touring very much like merchandise is, very much like concessions are. I think you’ll see it start to become hand in hand.
And it might be that thing where ... if you’re on an arena tour and it sells out, or whatever, then you open it up to virtual reality, so people can stay at home, safe, and watch it from there. And then the people that want to come and be in that people thing, then they get the option.
Q. Let’s talk about the new album. Kind of like your concert in Charlotte, “Fun” has been hard to pin down in terms of when fans would get to see it.
A. Yeah, it was supposed to come out last year, coming off the first end of the “Stadium Tour.” But coming off the first end of the “Stadium Tour,” something just wasn’t right with the album. I don’t know what it was. It felt great. It was a 10-cut album. It felt balanced. But there was something in your gut, just, “Hey man, this thing isn’t ready.” Nobody knew what it was, and so we decided to take it over the holiday, work it, work on sequencing and everything, and then put it out in the spring. And then COVID hit.
I didn’t care about the business side of it. If an album succeeds or not sales-wise doesn’t matter to me as long as it changes people’s lives that listen to it, or helps them with something they got going on.
But the problem was, how do you have fun in the middle of a pandemic? How do you celebrate? How do you promote “Fun”? If the album would have been called anything else, it’d have been fine, but I thought “Fun” felt very insincere to those people who were struggling.
So we waited and waited and waited, and now the whole thought process has kind of shifted to, “Hey, can we just have a little fun in the struggle? Can we just end the year maybe on a fun note?” So that’s why it’s coming out now. And it’s coming out with “Triple Live,” so it’s pretty cool. ... It’s the solitude of a studio record with the fun and party of a live record. So I like the balance.
Q. Did you have other titles in your mind that you thought, “Well, maybe we’ll do this instead?”
A. No, and then when we announced it, a lot of our core audience said, “Really? That’s the brilliant name you’ve come up for this?” But the truth is, man, every time anybody asked how the process was going, all you could say was, “It was fun.” Milton Sledge, the drummer — he’s played on every record — you could just hear it in his kit, that the music that was chosen for this was just fun, from “The Road I’m On” to “Hard Way to Make an Easy Living,” “Party Gras,” “A Message in a Bottle.” I don’t even want to talk about “Amen” — that’s the crazy cut on the record. But it’s a lot of fun.
Q. What kind of tinkering have you done with the album post-COVID?
A. I mean, it was a 10-cut record. It’s 14 now. “Shallow” is one of those results. Simply off of a Facebook Live thing, where people kept requesting it. And when you hear The Queen (his wife, Trisha Yearwood) sing it, it is one of those songs you just want to hear again and again and again. So we finally said, “Yes, OK, we’ll cut it for the record.”
I didn’t think it wasn’t gonna make the record. But damn, once you heard the record and heard The Queen’s performance, it’s like, Miss Yearwood’s singing her ass off and you’re thinking, “Well, I’d be proud to have this on the record.” And not only is it on the record, now all of a sudden it’s the single off the record during its launch. So that was an addition.
And I want to tell you, I think karma works in mysterious ways. If the whole reason this delay lasted a year has been solely for one song — “Where the Cross Don’t Burn” with Charlie Pride — it was worth it for me, ’cause that song kills me. I love the performance. That was a cool, cool piece of history to get to be a part of.
Q. Did you ever think you’d find yourself covering a song by Bradley Cooper?
A. (Laughing.) No, and just for the record, I always thought me and Bradley Cooper had a lot in common anyway. But (laughing) I think what they did with him as an actor — who’s not a singer, or known for singing — is they protected him very well. Then of course they bring in the big gun, Lady Gaga, and she can carry whoever else is on the wagon.
And it worked perfect for me, ’cause I get to do my four lines and step out of the way, then here comes one of the greatest voices to ever grace music: Miss Trisha Yearwood. So it’s — I’m trying not to use the word fun — but it is a cool addition to the record, and I really like Gaga and Cooper’s version of it.
Q. Alright, so who sings it better, Lady Gaga or your wife?
A. I’ve got to go with Trisha Yearwood. I love Lady Gaga, but I see her once a year. I live with my wife, so I’m gonna go with that. (Laughing.)
Q. Well, before I let you go, is there anything that you would want to say specifically to Charlotte — especially in light of the fact that everybody can see that you’re really determined to get here — ?
A. Yeah, I think the thing I want to say to them is what I say to everybody: Stay safe. But as far as a stadium that is already on the “Stadium Tour” and has already has gone on sale, first of all, thanks for your patience. Two, I’m just gonna warn you right now: I’m gonna be done about 30 seconds into the concert. I’m so excited. (Laughing.)
I’m gonna be worn out a minute into this thing. It’s just one of those things where I’ve been trying to get a date with this city for 20-something years, and once I got, it got pulled back even further. So just know the band and crew loves and respects the hell out of this city, and this is gonna be a fun gig. Please God, please let it happen. And please let everybody be safe doing it.