Garth Brooks brought music to Atlanta's brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the first time on Thursday, October 12th, playing guinea pig in a space that had never hosted a show and hanging tough to – mostly – overcome a temperamental sound system. The massive steel and concrete cavern, which opened in 2017 and now hosts the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United FC MLS team, unfortunately turned into an echo chamber when crowd and stage noise filled the space, but fans made the most of it, singing along as Brooks revisited his vast catalog.
As part of the entertainer's almost complete, three-year long World Tour with wife Trisha Yearwood, the show was a sellout of 80,000 fans, a figure the Country Music Hall of Famer could add to his total of six million tickets sold since the tour began in 2014. It has already included more than 300 concerts, the most ever for a single run.
Speaking before his performance, Brooks was complimentary of the new $1.5 billion stadium, but lamented not having an earlier show to break it in. "I'm nervous because I don't get that opening night," Brooks said during a pre-show press conference. His World Tour has averaged about the same attendance numbers in every city, but over multiple shows in smaller venues than the one in Atlanta. That would translate into an all-or-nothing situation for the artist and fans alike. "This is opening night and closing night, and I just want the people to walk out of here feeling like it was worth the time and effort," he said.
Soundcheck had just happened at that point, and Brooks may have sensed there was an issue brewing. But even so, there was no way to tell for sure until fans arrived. When asked casually how the stadium would sound, he replied, "We'll see."
Taking the stage to a deafening roar, it was clear that Brooks and his band are firing on all cylinders as the tour winds to its December close. His opening number was a fiery rendition of Charlie Daniels' "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," with five-story tall digital flames lighting up the stadium's "halo" – a massive ring of LED screens encircling the building's retractable roof.
Designed specifically for this show, Brooks' stage was huge. It was centered on the field's 50-yard-line and stretched from end zone to end zone via catwalks, with fans packed in every available inch of unused space. The circular center portion featured a drum pit and plenty of room for Brooks' ten-piece band – plus access to the stadium's lower levels, and it was from there that Brooks made his triumphant arrival.
Sprinting the length of the stage in a crisp black hat, denim shirt, jeans and a gleaming pair of black boots, a bearded Brooks slapped hands and riled the crowd with the night's first sing-along, "Rodeo," before stopping to survey the scene.
"People asked how it's gonna sound, and I can say you sound awesome!" he shouted, encouraging the crowd to "raise some hell" and challenging them to see how many could sing along – a deft move on a night when the sing-alongs were sometimes easier to decipher than anything else. "Two of a Kind, Workin' on a Full House," "The River" and "Two Piña Coladas" clicked off in short succession and Brooks, the consummate showman, made up for much of the auditory disappointment.
His solo acoustic mini-set was also a highlight. "Everyone always asks what my favorite part of the show is," he said, catching his breath. "For me this is how it all started – just a guy with a guitar."
"Unanswered Prayers" and Brooks' brokenhearted new single "Ask Me How I Know" – his highest charting song since 2007's "More Than a Memory" – were unexpected highlights, while Yearwood's arrival to the stage brought the house down.
The Georgia native (who said she invited about 200 family and friends to the show) began the dramatic duet "In Another's Eyes" from one end of the catwalk and met her husband in the middle, angling in for a kiss but never giving fans the payoff. Brooks then left the stage for Yearwood's solo segment, which included "XXX's and OOO's (An American Girl)," "How Do I Live" and a surprise appearance by former President Jimmy Carter.
"She's a great entertainer and a great cook," Carter said, affably bestowing Yearwood with a proclamation from her home state. "She's honored Georgia for many years. Now it's time for Georgia to honor her."
"I don't even know what to say," she replied. "I have been all over the world and lived in different places, but I am so proud to be from Georgia." That was a perfect segue into a soulful cover of "Georgia on My Mind," with "She's in Love With the Boy" following and Brooks returning to finally get that kiss.
As the show headed for the finish line, classics like "Callin' Baton Rouge," "Friends in Low Places," and "The Dance" brought another series of eruptions from the crowd, while "The Change" was transformed into a touching, a cappella tribute to the victims and heroes of the Las Vegas shooting. By the time the night closed with "Standing Outside the Fire," all the performers – including opening acts Mitch Rossell and Karyn Rochelle – had weathered the storm admirably, and delivered the kind of escape-from-reality show they had hoped for.
The sold-out night should go down as a success, albeit one that came with the hiccups associated with a brand new venue. It should have been expected, since it was primarily designed to be a state-of-the-art sports arena and not a concert venue. Regardless, the stadium's management did decide to issue a statement saying they were working out the kinks, following reports of unhappy concertgoers demanding refunds.
"Garth Brooks played the first concert tonight at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and it was a spectacular show that tens of thousands enjoyed," they wrote. "We have heard some fan concerns about sound quality in certain sections of the upper concourse and sound engineers are looking into that now. We do know that a breaker was tripped that powered speakers in the parts of the upper level for a small amount of time and was resolved."
Brooks has yet to comment, but it's hard to imagine the famously competitive artist doesn't want to return one day and conquer that stadium once and for all.