Throughout a career that has spanned nearly three decades, Garth Brooks has provided no shortage of memorable moments — especially in his live shows. Over the years, Brooks has brought (sometimes hundreds of thousands of) country music fans together — even during his “retirement.”
In fact, when Brooks performs for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday (Jan. 20), it won’t even be his first time singing at a presidential inauguration. He performed during President Barack Obama’s 2008 inauguration, and he’s played for every president since Jimmy Carter, with the exception of Ronald Reagan.
Below, The Boot looks back at seven of Brooks’ most incredible concert moments, from record-breaking ticket sales to record-breaking ticket refunds, from heartbreaking moments to once-in-a-lifetime ones. These performances are true standouts.
Oh Say, Can You Sing?
In 1993, Brooks was booked to perform the National Anthem at Super Bowl XXVII, alongside actress Marlee Matlin, who translated the song in sign language for the audience — but he almost didn’t go on. Brooks wouldn’t agree to pre-record the Anthem for the game, and when the NFL refused to air the artist’s politically charged music video for “We Shall Be Free,” Brooks threatened to bail on the entire event. The NFL relented and played the video, and Brooks sang the anthem live … but, after that, pre-recordings became required.
Garth Packs Central Park
On Aug. 7, 1997, Brooks played a free concert in New York City’s Central Park that was reported to have been attended by more than 750,000 people. While the exact numbers have since been contested, there’s no question that it was a record-breaking, history-making moment. Nicknamed “Garthstock,” the concert was filmed and broadcast live on HBO; it’s also part of Brooks’ 2006 DVD collection, The Entertainer.
A Flood of Ticket Sales for Flood Relief
Brooks once again outdid himself in ticket sales when he decided to host a benefit concert for flood relief in Nashville following catastrophic storms there in 2010. Clearly one show wasn’t enough, as the then-“retired” superstar ultimately scheduled nine concerts and sold more than 140,000 tickets in one day to raise money for flood victims in Middle Tennessee.
No-Go in Dublin
Brooks planned to begin his most recent World Tour with five sold-out shows in Dublin, Ireland’s Croke Park; alas, the shows were canceled a mere two weeks before opening night when authorities wouldn’t issue permits for five nights of live music in a row. It would have been Brooks’ first time back to Croke Park, which he packed out with a crowd of 130,000 fans before construction was completed on the stadium, in 1997; instead, it was the biggest Ticketmaster refund in history.
Enjoy the Dance
On Nov. 7, 2014, Teresa Shaw, a lifelong fan of Brooks’, arrived at one of his shows in Minneapolis, Minn., with a sign that read ”Chemo this morning. Garth tonight. Enjoying the dance.” Arena staff took notice and put her on the video screens during Brooks’ performance of “The Dance” … and then, they ushered her to the front, where she shared a moment with Brooks that brought the entire stadium to tears.
“You have all of my strength, you have everybody’s strength in here,” Brooks told Shaw, drawing a huge response from the audience, “and you go kick cancer’s ass!”
Shaw came back to another Brooks show in 2016 with a new sign. That time, it read “I kicked cancer’s ass. Still enjoying the dance.”
Garth’s Got Friends in Low Places
Also in 2014, Brooks crashed Justin Timberlake‘s The 20/20 Experience Tour stop in Nashville to perform a duet on Brooks’ massive hit “Friends in Low Places” with the pop star. Timberlake even coaxed the country star — dressed casually, as just another fan — into rocking the song’s controversial third verse before he left the stage. Everything about the moment was incredible, but it’s Timberlake’s reaction to being onstage with Garth Freakin’ Brooks that really takes it over the top.
The Luck of the (Fighting) Irish
On Oct. 20, 2018, Brooks headlined the first-ever concert at Notre Dame Stadium. “You do things in your life that you’re proud of, if you’re lucky. This one, just by association, brings a ton of pride to myself and my family,” the star said ahead of the big show, which packed a sold-out crowd of more than 84,000 fans into the venue.
Brooks’ ND show was his first stadium concert, but certainly not his last. In 2019, the singer launched a full-fledged stadium tour that’s, so far, taken him to St. Louis, Mo.; Knoxville, Tenn.; Detroit, Mich.; and more big venues.