Garth Brooks Pulls Off Greatest Country Music Swindle Ever

Don’t regard this as a slandering. Please don’t mistake this as a rebuke. I bow down to the magnificent power of country music megastar Garth Brooks, and his ability to hoodwink hundreds of thousands of people and make millions of dollars even amidst an unprecedented pandemic and economic disparity, and for the most part, leave most fans happy. It’s good work if you can get it.

We’re talking about Garth’s idea to pre-record a concert, and then rebroadcast it to some 300 drive-in theaters across the United States and charge $100 a vehicle for access. It would be a ludicrous idea on the surface for any other artist of any caliber to even comprehend. But Garth Brooks can pull it off. And pull it off he did on Saturday, June 27th, 2020.

The drive-in music concert is not unprecedented at this point. Alan Jackson, Whiskey Myers, The Josh Abbott Band, and others have partaken in this particular COVID-19 work around as a way to generate a little revenue for themselves and worthy venues, while also giving fans the opportunity to get out of the house, and enjoy live music safely once again. Though it’s nowhere close to the experience of being in a sweaty field pressed up against the stage and surrounded by your friends—and there’s fair question about the sustainability of the drive-in model moving forward—it’s not a terrible stop gap while the industry attempts to sustain through this pandemic.

But so many of the things that make live music cool were flaunted and forgotten in the way this Garth Brooks concert came to fruition. First and foremost, it was pre-recorded. And not just many days in advance, with maybe a few retakes to smooth out flubs. As many remarked while watching, the backup singers on stage flipped positions from the right to the left on numerous occasions—yes, like those obvious incongruity flubs people love to point out in movies, but one that was blatantly obvious to most everyone in the audience immediately.

Not only was the performance pre-recorded, but it was also smoothed out and embellished with studio work. This is the level of obsession Garth Brooks has with perfection, which might make the performance mistake free, but sanitizes and cans it, which scrubs out everything cool about the live music experience—the spontaneity, the realness, the possibility of mistakes as performers work without a net, and the forgiveness of the audience for such things because they know what they’re seeing is raw and in real time.

But Garth was not unprecedented in pre-recording his performance either. We’ve seen this from some of the “live festivals” and such during the pandemic with much less-popular artists. It’s totally understandable why we can’t congregate. What doesn’t make a whole lot of sense with the technology we have is why some of these events can’t transpire in real time as opposed to being pre-recorded. When you see someone performing during the day and it’s night outside and you were initially sold that it would be live, it just usurps so much of the energy and camaraderie these events could otherwise contain. But of course, many of these livestream are being offered for cheap or free—much less than $100 a carload.

Garth Brooks had an “opener” for the concert—the very worthy Randall King who deserves whatever attention and opportunities he gets. He’s the future of true, traditional country that can still reach the masses, similar to like what Garth Brooks did earlier in his career. But instead of showing a unique Randall King appearance, they basically broadcast a few of his videos from YouTube, which was one of the multiple grumbles some attendees had with the experience.

And when Garth did take the stage, the concert was only an hour and 14 minutes long. Is that really worth $100 bucks a car? And how many people packed in with friends or family they hadn’t been sheltering in place with in stuffy vehicles in the middle of the summer, potential increasing their risk of getting the Coronavirus just to save money?

And most disappointingly to some, the sound was not a concert-quality experience. Instead of setting up big concert PA systems at the various drive-in spots, they used existing drive-in systems. For some, that meant you could tune in via your car’s FM tuner, and depending on the quality of your system, the sound was pretty good. But for some, they were forced to listen on some gooseneck speaker coming out of the ground, potentially installed in the 70’s, or on the AM dial, with mono fuzz attempting to convey the energy of a live performance pre-recorded six days prior and touched up in a studio.

Garth Brooks even canned a few moments where he compelled the crowd to sing along, or take out their phones and hold them up as lights. But when you know the whole thing is pre-recorded, what’s the point? You’re not sharing that energy and moment with the stage. If you got the sense that hundreds of thousands of fellow Garth fans were joining in as Garth poured his heart into a performance even if he was physically thousands of miles away, you still might feel like you’re in a “moment.” But in truth, Garth and his band were probably at home, eating KFC, or maybe they turned in early.

But again, it appears most attendees were mostly happy. And let’s not overlook that by bringing so many people to these drive-ins, Garth did help supply some economic stimulus during a difficult time. But there were definitely exceptions to the happy audience as well, from people who felt swindled, and took to social media to express their grievances with the performance or presentation. Could other artists do this? Of course not. They’d be cat called and admonished, and lampooned as money hungry and opportunist.

But Garth Brooks appears to be insulated from the most vehement of rebukes from the public, as he has been throughout the often unusual turns of his career. He could sell ice to the Inuit, or $100 tickets to drive-ins that usually charging $20.00 to pre-recorded shows, while still not delivering a $10 album Garth fans pre-ordered two years ago.

He’s Garth Brooks. And though those with a conscience feel the need to speak up, you kind of have to hand it to him. He just pulled off what might be the greatest country music swindle ever, and still left most fans happy.

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