In one of the most highly anticipated shows to hit the Central Coast, country music superstar Garth Brooks took the stage at the California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles on Thursday night to play a two-show set that lasted deep into Friday morning.
Tickets to see Brooks, the No. 1 selling solo artist in U.S. history with 149 million albums sold, along with his wife and special guest Trisha Yearwood sold out in a combined 60 seconds between the two shows.
It was Brooks’ first-ever appearance at the venue, and it’s hard to believe anyone left disappointed — even if his second show didn’t start until midnight and wrapped up after 2 a.m.
Fans started lining up for the first show two hours before the scheduled start and the line — filled with excited show goers decked out in Garth gear and many in the requisite country western gear, 10-gallon hats and all — snaked around the fairgrounds. The first show started just before 8 p.m. when Brooks took the stage wearing a black cowboy hat and blue jeans and opened with “Rodeo,” a hit from his 1991 album “Ropin’ the Wind.”
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The crowd erupted and showered Brooks with cheers and he raised his arms to welcome in the love.
“Thanks for letting us come back to your great state of California to play our music,” Brooks said. “And for the first time ever come to the ever-famous Paso Robles California Mid-State Fair. This is cool!”
Next up was “Two of a Kind Working on a Full House.” As he sang, Brooks walked deep into the sold-out crowd and handed out high fives on a stage that had been extended far past the large video screens on each side.
Between songs, Brooks assured the crowd that there would be plenty more of the “old stuff” to come.
“Remember when you talk about the old stuff you gotta remember I’m like 95 years old now,” said Brooks, who turned 55 in February. “No way this big ass is going to get two shows through tonight ... you are going to have to pick me up and carry me.”
Fans did exactly that, singing along as Brooks ran through hits like “The River,” “Two Piña Coladas,” “Unanswered Prayers,” “That Summer” and “The Thunder Rolls.”
By 8:30 p.m, his shirt was soaked from the Paso Robles heat, and it was time to bring in reinforcements. Yearwood joined Brooks for “In Another’s Eyes.” Brooks then took a break backstage as Yearwood went through her own list of hits including “Xxx’s And Ooo’s (An American Girl),” “How Do I Live” and “She’s In Love With The Boy.”
When Yearwood was done, Brooks — who surpassed The Beatles to become the first musician with seven albums to sell over 10 million copies — returned to the stage with a vengeance with “Callin’ Baton Rouge.” And everyone sang along as he played arguably is most well-known hit, “Friends In Low Places” — he even threw in the infamous third verse in both sets, for those in the know.
“I haven’t played a fair in 100 years,” Brooks told the first crowd. “But I’ll tell you what, I found one of the coolest freaking places on the planet!”
For the encore, Brooks finished out the first show like he has so many shows before during his 28-year career, playing songs written on signs held up by fans in the crowd. They included a cover of “Night Moves” by Bob Seger, “We Shall Be Free” and “Much Too Young To Feel This Damn Old.” He wrapped up with “Standing Outside The Fire” — while outside, fans were already standing in line for the second show.
A few hours later, Brooks changed his shirt and did it all over again.
Although the transition between the two shows was far from seamless as a mass of humanity splashed together — organizers expected 50,000 people at the night’s peak, 30,000 between the two shows mixing with the normal fair crowd. And the combination of anticipation from night show goers and giddiness from those filing out from the night’s first performance created a mellow vibe, and the night went off with no major incident.
And Brooks was appreciative.
“People, I know what you went through to get here, and I know it’s late, but we came here to raise some hell and have some fun,” Brooks said to the crowd’s screams to kick off the second show.
The set list was similar, with a few deviations, including “Amarillo By Morning,” “Longneck Bottle” and a cover of Merle Haggard’s iconic “Fighting Side of Me” in a five-song encore.
Brooks strummed his final cord of the night just past 2 a.m., but you could have counted the number of people who left early on one hand. The crowd left buzzing, spilling into a still-swirling fair that stayed open for free rides until 3 a.m.
Brooks is certainly one of those artists that elicits passion, no doubt stemming from memories that go along with the artist’s vast collection. Let’s face it, he’s been doing his thing for a long time, and all of his fans certainly have more than one song that represents a meaningful moment in multiple stages of life.
And all of it — the good and bad — came pouring out Thursday night and early Friday morning.
Dan Itel contributed to this report.