Flashback: See Garth Brooks Wow the CMAs With 'Friends in Low Places' - Rolling Stone
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Flashback: See Garth Brooks Wow the CMAs With ‘Friends in Low Places’

Campy but exuberant 1990 performance of the ‘No Fences’ hit announced Brooks as a CMA Awards mainstay

This year’s CMA Awards nominations revealed several first-timers in their respective categories, including Entertainer of the Year contender Eric Church. But Church faces some stiff competition from a veteran in that category: Garth Brooks. The superstar roared out of retirement last year, and earned his eighth Entertainer of the Year nod today, his first since 1999. Brooks, who has taken the trophy three times (in 1991, 1992 and 1997), also has a passel of other CMA honors, including membership in the Country Music Hall of Fame.  

Brooks’ long history with the CMAs goes all the way back to October 8th, 1990. Just two days after he became a member of the Grand Ole Opry, Brooks was among the nominees for the 24th annual CMA honors. In fact, he led the pack with five nominations, including Single and Song of the Year for “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” from his self-titled debut album. That LP also featured “The Dance,” the inspirational ballad that was accompanied by a heart-tugging music video, which also earned a CMA mention. In addition, Brooks snagged nods for Male Vocalist of the Year and for the Horizon Award (now known as New Artist of the Year).

To spotlight his sophomore LP No Fences, released in late August, Brooks performed its first single, the rollicking “Friends in Low Places.” The hit had just ascended to the Number One spot on the country charts and No Fences was well on its way to selling in excess of 17 million copies. Although his performance on the CMA telecast wasn’t the show’s highlight (that honor goes to Mary Chapin Carpenter’s ballsy show-stopper, “Opening Act”), it certainly spotlights Brooks’ unmistakable showmanship. Unfortunately, by the time the song kicks into high gear, Brooks is flanked by a group of boot-scootin’ line dancers looking like confused time travelers from the 2003 Broadway production of Urban Cowboy. Cringe-worthy choreography aside, the song was unstoppable and would go on to be both the CMA and ACM Single of the Year in 1991.

Brooks took home his first pair of CMAs that night, for Horizon Award and Music Video of the Year. A year later, he won the first of back-to-back CMA Entertainer of the Year honors, a feat he would duplicate in 1997 and 1998. Winning a fifth time would put him ahead of all-time champ Kenny Chesney, who has taken the honor four times and is nominated again this year.

Meanwhile, the 25th anniversary of No Fences and “Friends in Low Places” was set to be celebrated later this year with an all-star reboot of the monster hit tune featuring Brooks collaborating with George Strait, Keith Urban, Florida Georgia Line and Jason Aldean. Negotiations with music publishers representing some of the songwriters who contributed to the original LP have reportedly hit a roadblock, however, putting the project in jeopardy. Elsewhere, Brooks is currently working on a holiday album with wife Trisha Yearwood.

In This Article: Garth Brooks


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