Pandemic? What pandemic? That seemed to be the vibe among the 68,000 people at Garth Brooks’ concert at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Saturday night, the first major stadium concert anywhere in the U.S. since the arrival of Covid-19.
Social distancing? Nope. Masks? Maybe a few wore them. Heck, Brooks even shared M&M’s with the crowd at one point.
While there is certainly some trepidation about a mass indoor gathering right now — especially with the emergence of the more transmissible delta variant — the semblance of normalcy outweighed everything else on Saturday night.
“To every musician out there, all I can say is get back in the game because it’s the greatest feeling in the world,” Brooks said, admitting that he was “nervous” about returning to the stage after more than 500 days off. The crowd, though, was all too appreciative, and they sang every word to Brooks’ catalog of country hits, from “Friends in Low Places” and “The Dance” to “Rodeo” and a show-closing “Standing Outside the Fire,” for over two hours.
“Any time you’re off for a long time and come back, especially when you’ve been going as long as we have,” Brooks said onstage, “you think it’s going to be over. Thank you for making me feel like this.”
Truth be told, Brooks showed few signs of rust, as he barreled through a set list of nearly 30 songs. He rewarded the crowd with all the hits and tossed in a few cover songs from George Strait, Keith Whitley, and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Arguably the highlight of the evening happened toward the end, when Trisha Yearwood, Brooks’ wife, came out to duet on “Shallow” from A Star Is Born with her husband. Then they sang “Walkaway Joe,” Yearwood’s 1992 hit.
“I’ve never been made to feel at home as quickly as you guys have made me feel,” Brooks said.
Brooks’ in-the-round concert was a bit of a time capsule, as it looked and felt like concerts pre-Covid. If it’s what concerts can truly be again remains to be seen, as the delta variant becomes the most dominant strain of the virus in the U.S. and vaccinations lag. Last week, Nevada reported the third-highest count of new coronavirus cases per capita, behind current hot spots Missouri and Arkansas.
While meeting with reporters on Friday, Brooks himself said he didn’t “officially” know that the show would go on until just four weeks ago, recounting how he and his team were “waiting for the [Nevada] governor to declare if Vegas was open or not.”
Las Vegas fully reopened and lifted all Covid restrictions on June 1st.
For the vast majority in attendance at the sold-out concert, it was most likely the first time they’ve stepped foot inside Allegiant Stadium, which opened during the throes of the pandemic in July 2020. Brooks was initially scheduled to christen the football stadium, an enclosed, air-conditioned structure to protect from the Vegas heat, last August, but the show was postponed (and postponed a second time in February.)
Due to the delays, Brooks actually missed out on bragging rights of being the first to play the home of the Las Vegas Raiders — EDM star Illenium performed there a week prior to 35,000 people. Brooks performed in front of 68,000.
The fact the Brooks is the first major artist to bring fans back to stadiums isn’t lost on him. He spoke at length about that “responsibility” during Friday’s press conference.
“I think what you have here is to show some kind of fricking responsibility, right? Now you have an obligation to the rest of this industry to say, ‘This is what we’re doing, this works for us. How about you guys?’ ” he said. “We’re taking all the precautions that we possibly can to make sure that we’re doing our part. Then the rest of it you just kind of throw up to fate and the common sense of the people you’re playing for, and I really hope that that message gets across, that if you’re going to do it, do it responsibly until we can get back to being real musicians and not having to be responsible.”
Brooks’ next stadium concert is July 17th in Salt Lake City. As with the Las Vegas show, a disclaimer on Brooks’ website states, “Purchaser assumes Covid risk. All Covid rules apply.”
All Day Long
Two of a Kind, Workin’ On a Full House
The Beaches of Cheyenne
Two Piña Coladas
Fishin’ in the Dark
The Thunder Rolls
Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)
Ask Me How I Know
Callin’ Baton Rouge
Friends In Low Places
Papa Loved Mama
In Lonesome Dove
Don’t Close Your Eyes
Amarillo by Morning
Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)
Standing Outside the Fire