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Garth Brooks brings country to Buffalo

Celebrities (at least not the highly guarded kind) don’t show up for news conferences that are a half-hour behind schedule because of a delayed flight, then proceed to chat casually with each reporter, calling everyone by name, adding “Miss” and “ma’am” for the ladies, snapping selfies and doing shout-outs.

Celebrities (at least not the showman kind) don’t show up for media opportunities wearing a dark ballcap, an orange-and-black Superman-styled Oklahoma State hoodie, loose jeans and sneakers.

Celebrities also don’t play six shows in four nights in midsize cities like Buffalo.

It would almost seem, then, that Garth Brooks isn’t really a celebrity.

But with Brooks, who began his mostly sold-out run of shows Thursday night in First Niagara Center, logic doesn’t apply. After more than a dozen years in semi-retirement, the 53-year-old launched a comeback tour last fall with his wife, fellow country star Trisha Yearwood. The tour is atypical; instead of playing single or two-day engagements and traveling from city to city, Brooks and crew are setting up in country music-friendly locales for multi-day (and sometimes multi-weekend) stays.

And he’s selling out everywhere.

“We feel lucky people come out to see us,” Brooks said during a Thursday afternoon news conference in the arena’s Lexus Club. “Especially at this age, you feel even luckier.”

Brooks’ lengthy stays in each city allow him to get involved in the community. Here in Buffalo and elsewhere on tour, he’s accomplishing that through the Garth Brooks Teammates for Kids Foundation. The organization is holding a “Football ProCamp” Sunday at the Buffalo Bills’ ADPRO Sports Training Center in Orchard Park. One hundred kids ages 9 through 13, invited by the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County, will work with Brooks and Bills personnel.

They also give Brooks and crew the chance, if they so choose, to check out the local sights and hangouts. In Chicago, where the tour opened, Brooks and Yearwood hit up a bowling alley. Last month in Detroit, Yearwood attended a Zumba class.

“I hear the falls were frozen,” Brooks said, without directly answering a question about whether he’d be visiting Niagara Falls. “Does that really happen?”

But sightseeing for Brooks, and Garth-sighting for fans, is a sideline endeavor. The big story for Brooks is the overwhelming fan response to his comeback. Brooks told reporters that he was hoping to achieve half the ticket sales of his last big tour in the 1990s.

“Right now, we’re at 120, 130 percent of that,” said Brooks, who balances a folksy persona with a detailed business mind and counters his superstar status with the occasional reminder that he isn’t invincible.

He shared a statistic that nodded to his generational appeal and acknowledged his age: Forty-eight percent of his Buffalo ticket buyers were 10 or younger (some, not even born) in 1998, the last time he was in Buffalo.

He admitted that his vocal chords take a hit from show to show.

“The only thing that will go down during the six shows is the voice,” he said. “It just doesn’t hold up. I wish it did. They keep telling me, ‘Take it easy.’ I can’t. It’s like a kid at a candy store. They tell me to quit screaming.

“I can’t.”

The workload, Brooks said, is no problem. “We want you to think it’s hard, but it’s the easiest job on the planet,” he said, drawing on an example he’s used multiple times: “If your job was eating ice cream for a living and your boss comes in and goes, ‘Hey, you’re going to have to pull a double shift tonight,’ you’re like, ‘Count me in.’ It’s so fun.”

There was a time when the travel and time away from home wasn’t as fun. When Brooks’ three college-age daughters were younger, he felt guilty being away. “They hand you your first child and all you can think is, ‘I want to be the parent my mom and dad were for me; I want to be there for everything,’ ” he said. “And you’re not.”

That stinging realization prompted Brooks to leave the road, move home to Oklahoma, and raise his girls.

When his youngest graduated high school last year, Brooks and Yearwood started pondering the classic empty-nester question: “What are we going to do with the rest of our lives?”

“And it was Miss Yearwood,” Brooks said, referring to his wife, “who said, ‘Have you thought about touring again?’ ”


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