Garth Brooks on Chris Gaines, Opening Songs and True Friends

Garth Brooks is back.
Garth Brooks is back. Brandon Marshall
What do you ask when you have two minutes with Garth Brooks?

First things first: Shake the man's hand, try to keep your legs from quivering, and thank the guy for getting you through a few breakups back in the ’90s. "That's what the music's for," he says. And he seems to sincerely care, even though he's probably heard that bazillions of times.

Brooks may be late in his career, but he's very much in the game. On June 8, more people will pack in to see his sold-out Denver show than for any other event in the history of Broncos Stadium: 84,000 in total. He just sold a million copies of a vinyl box set in eighteen hours, breaking yet another record — and he hasn't even released the albums yet. He has a new project coming out this year, Fun, and songs and videos dropping every couple of months.

At a presser the day before his show, he tells you and the rest in a fawning pack of journalists that his wife, Trisha Yearwood, often reminds him of the difference between breathing and being alive. He's very much alive. He promises that when he sings to his fans, "I'm gonna work ’em like rented mules." And you're not sure if that sounds appropriate, but, hey, it's Garth Brooks, so why not?

And then, after waiting around for the TV and radio people to do their thing, you get your two minutes to ask whatever you want — and you drag it out to four because you want to ask each question your readers asked you to — even the embarrassing one about about Chris Gaines, Brooks's rock-star alter ego that nearly derailed his career.

That's what we did, and here's what Brooks had to say.

Westword: Okay, we have a few questions from readers. One of the things we love about country artists, particularly the greats — Johnny Cash, Willie and you — is that you surprise people. Chris Gaines happened. What happened to Chris Gaines? Will we ever see him again?

Garth Brooks: No. You won't ever see him again. My ribs are still bruised from that. It was fun. Sony Pictures decided to do this script about an artist being worth more to a label dead than alive. That was the basis. They needed a character they could kill. Well, you can't kill somebody real, right? And so we wrote the music for it and played the music for it, thinking it was going to be a fun thing, and it somehow went south. It's still some of my favorite music that I ever got to participate in — probably the most I ever had to work in music, because the pop world works. Country music, we just go in and you kinda get to be yourself. But the pop world deals a lot with characters within the character. It was draining. It was fun, but I'm good not to touch it again.

Fair enough. Another person asked: What are your favorite opening and closing songs?

Opening is anything that lets the people know: "Pow! We're here." So "Standing Outside the Fire" was a good one for us. We had a song called "The Old Stuff," and it's when "The Old Stuff" was new. It was kind of a biography or a documentary of our life on the road, which was fun because you could show pictures of you a lot younger, out on the road, out on the bus. That was fun. It kind of set the tempo.

We started with "Not Counting You," the first single off the first album. That song did its job. But what you'll find, usually an opening song, it will only be played for that tour and never played again, because once you play it, it throws you back into that time, because it's the opening song. "Standing Outside the Fire" is the one exception. Every now and then we'll pull it out. But even when you do that, it throws you back to the ’96-’98 tour. That's what you remember.

What's the most surprising thing about your career at this point?

The career! I'm not being humble. I'm just stunned. Central Park [a show in New York City that brought in more than 850,000 fans] surprised me to death. The great thing about country music is they want you to be the guy next door, but they'll give you numbers that can compete with any form of music. That's neat, because you get the best of both worlds. You get to be a rock star, and at the same time, you get to be yourself.

Do you have friends in low places, and if so, who are the best?

The best friends in low places are the ones who know that they're friends in low places. I think it's the people that treat you with the respect of "Hey, man, congratulations on your success, and congratulations on just staying one of us." One of the greatest compliments I ever got in my life — she was here before — she said, "I have always looked at you as one of us that just got lucky." That's the sweetest thing.

Garth Brooks, 7 p.m. Saturday, June 8, Broncos Stadium, 1701 Bryant Street, SOLD OUT.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris