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Sunday, October 1, 2023
Oct. 1, 2023

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From Encore to Allegiant: Garth Brooks’ Vegas history

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LAS VEGAS — We’ll start with where we didn’t see Garth Brooks perform in Las Vegas. That would be the Desert Inn and his October 1991 appearance co-headlining with Carlene Carter.

Since then, we have been along for Brooks’ wild ride through Vegas. This includes the country superstar’s acoustic performances at Wynn Las Vegas, which occupies the spot where the Desert Inn once stood.

This time around, Brooks is performing at a familiar venue among Strip headliners, but one that is new to him: “Garth Brooks/Plus One” is due to open May 18 at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace.

He is booked for select dates in May, June and July and set to return Nov. 29 to Dec. 16. More dates are to be specified in 2024. Brooks will play at the Colosseum for a long spell, in other words, toggling with Adele’s residency dates in an impressively busy year at Caesars Palace.

He is open to inviting guest stars, starting with his wife, Trisha Yearwood. Brooks has talked of placing his bandmates in the audience and bringing them to the stage at appropriate moments. This show is reportedly not permitting phones or recording devices. The special moments are to be appreciated in the moment and left to memories.

And we do hold the memories. A history of Brooks in Vegas:

  • Thomas & Mack Center, August 1998

This was in the era when the T&M hosted superstar tours. It was hot, weather-wise and sales-wise. All 72,076 seats sold out. Brooks’ demand was so strong, he could have filled Sam Boyd Stadium twice. Some of his more nuanced moments were drowned out by the crowd’s roar. He revved up the audience with back-to-back spins through “Friends in Low Places” and “The Dance,” as well as “Wild as the Wind” and “Powerful Thing” with Yearwood.

  • Encore Theater, October 2012

Near the end of Brooks’ Wynn run, we noted the informality of it all: His stage ensemble could have been purchased at any Flying J. But that was the point. Work boots, jeans, hoodie, branded ball cap and an acoustic guitar was all Brooks needed in this groundbreaking series, which ran intermittently from December 2009 through January 2014.

He told so many revealing stories, by the end Brooks seemed a friend. One, from the moment he met one of his music heroes, James Taylor: “This guy was beautiful!” Brooks told the audience how he cried while rehearsing “Sweet Baby James” with Taylor.

Steve Wynn spent a bundle on Brooks, throwing in a private plane to transport the star from his Oklahoma home to Vegas and back. It was worth it.

  • T-Mobile Arena, June 2016

This was one of the first concerts at the Strip arena, which debuted that April. The audience roared throughout the “Man Against Machine” tour stop, the first time in four years that Brooks had played Vegas. This was the rock star Brooks, working the crowd into a frenzy: “You all gonna be all right? I don’t know if this crowd is pacing itself tonight!”

This was a spectacle-scaled show. A four-sided video panel surrounded the stage, raising at the start of the show. An LED-trimmed sphere encased the drum set. Brooks climbed all over that apparatus. I remarked at the time that he looked like a kid at recess playing on monkey bars.

  • Allegiant Stadium, July 2021

The first country concert ever at the Las Vegas Raiders’ home stadium drew 65,000 fans. One was Yearwood, who also joined Brooks for “Walkaway Joe.” The crowd erupted at her arrival. Brooks began the song, only to be halted as Yearwood explained he was in the wrong key. This led to a lengthy debate about the difference between E and F. Yearwood won the argument. She’d already won the crowd’s heart. More of this repartee is expected at the Colosseum.

  • Dolby Live at Park MGM, February 2022

Classified as the “One Man Show,” the performance was the closest that Brooks has sauntered to his Encore Theater days. The venue’s balcony was draped for reduced capacity and a more intimate vibe. True to his previous form at Wynn, Brooks swapped out his guitars far more often (six changes) than his attire (no changes). This time his cap read, fittingly, “Life Is Good.”

This was the first of Brooks’ shows to require phones to be “pouched” in Yondr cases. (I am eager to see how his hardcore fans, active for years on social media, will respond to this provision at Caesars Palace.)

There was even talk during those February shows of Brooks relaunching his Vegas plans at Park MGM. He spoke of the theater’s cozy layout and the immediacy of the crowd’s response. He wasn’t sure about residency plans, but midway through his second show, he called out, “Tonight clinches it!”

Years earlier, Brooks spoke of the city’s long history of support. “Wherever we have played, you have made us feel like Las Vegas is our home,” he said, removing his hat to salute the crowd. “I want to thank you for that.”

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