For a variety of reasons, Garth Brooks is a pretty polarizing figure in country music. Plenty of devoted fans blame Brooks for the dominance of pop-country in the 1990s, and some would continue to blame him for the current state of the genre. Others aren't too happy that he ditched his longtime wife for Trisha Yearwood, and many are still pretty pissed about that terrible album he released as Chris Gaines in 1999. Despite these critics, though, Brooks just sold more than 100,000 tickets to people in Dallas and beyond for a slate of seven shows over five days this September.
This single-day sales record eclipses Brooks’ own, set in Dallas in 1998. After years off the road and no new recordings since 2007, Brooks launched his comeback in 2014 with the release of Man Against Machine. While the album earned mixed reviews from critics, Brooks smashed yet another record and surpassed Elvis Presley to become the best-selling solo artist of all time, selling more than 123 million albums in his now 30-plus year career.
And there’s a reason for that. Say what you will about the quality of Brooks’ new record — or any of the work he’s done after the Gaines fiasco that effectively ended his reign on the country charts — the man has an uncanny ability to attract an audience. That has everything to do with Brooks’ almost obsessively fan-driven perspective on the music business.
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No doubt, Brooks has made plenty of self-interested choices in his career, some reasonable and some bizarre. In 1999, Brooks officially “retired” from touring so that he could be there as his daughter grew up, an admirable and reasonable choice. He returned in 2009 for an exclusive engagement in Las Vegas at the Wynn Hotel, but would not go on tour until almost five years later. When the Man Against Machine tour was announced in late 2013, fans rushed to buy tickets, which quickly sold out. This move was strategic; Brooks hoped to eclipse the record U2’s 360° tour set in 2011.
And to make his comeback the biggest ever, Brooks had to make some very specific choices, living up to his “man against machine” ethos. In Dallas, those choices were clearly evident. Instead of one sold-out night at AT&T Stadium, Brooks chose to make this tour more accessible to fans that have been waiting for years to see him again. The $68.50 price point was very reasonable, and it applied to all sections of the arena. When you purchased tickets to one of the seven shows, you were placed into a sort of lottery, where fans who got there first scored the best seats and paid less than $70 for a prime spot.
Undoubtedly, he could charge more. It isn’t really fair to compare Brooks’ ticket prices to some of his touring country contemporaries, but when you do that, it’s still clear that he could be making a hell of a lot more money off of this tour than he’s chosen to. A basic ticket to the October date of Luke Bryan’s Kick the Dust Up tour is selling for $45, not including fees. Considering that Brooks has a significantly more impressive pedigree than Bryan — or any mainstream touring country artist at the moment — you’d think that his tickets would at least cost double.
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This is incredibly important, especially when you consider the pricey tickets that other music legends — and yes, Brooks is a legend at this point — have been able to sell in recent years. When George Strait performed his final date at AT&T Stadium, tickets on the lower levels sold for hundreds of dollars, relegating less-wealthy fans to the nosebleeds, no matter how quick they were to buy their own tickets. Even parking at AT&T Stadium is a financial impediment for fans, with passes selling for upwards of $100 each for big-time events.
Also notable is the tour’s blatant stance against scalping. Tickets to the seven dates are non-transferable, sold at strict limits and you're required to show the credit card used when you pick up your passes. In reducing the tickets sold to after-market ticket sellers, Brooks was deliberately making it possible for more people to get into this show at the set ticket price. Still, there are plenty of tickets available on StubHub, all of which are going for more than $100 at the time of this writing.
In thumbing his nose at Jerry Jones and scalpers alike, Brooks continues his fan-friendly and independent way of navigating the music business. He is the ultimate man of the people, ensuring that as many eager fans as possible have access to his performances. Considering that, we have to wonder if all the Brooks hate is just bullshit. More important, though, that hate seems to be just a drop in the bucket compared to the actual tens of thousands of people who have their tickets to the biggest country show of the year.