When Garth Brooks took the star-shaped revolving stage at the center of the RodeoHouston arena on Tuesday night, the legendary country singer had already won over the exuberant opening-night crowd just by being there. This was the first time the Oklahoma native had played the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo since he rocked the joint just after he'd become a country music household name back in 1993.
Most of the audience for the sold-out show knew every word to his songs and were so sure of exactly what they were getting that it was only a matter of letting it happen in front of them. Despite the time that had passed, and the fact that everyone in that place was a little older and wiser (or hadn't even been born yet when the singer first hit it big with his eponymous 1989 debut album), Brooks quickly proved he still had what it takes to put on one hell of a show.
What was remarkable about Brooks as he strode back and forth under the lights, sweating buckets, is how he never once seemed to take any of it for granted. Over the course of more than an hour of playing, Brooks frequently paused on the lip of the stage, peering out past the lights into the packed, sold-out show, and it was impossible to miss the joy on his face. As he whipped through a setlist comprised of his standard hits—from "The Thunder Rolls" to "The River," "Friends in Low Places," and "The Dance"—and covers of songs by everyone from the Oak Ridge Boys to Billy Joel and George Strait, it was clear the man was doing his damndest to give Houston a show to remember.
Brooks made frequent trips to every single corner of the stage, making a point of singing for the people in the priciest seats right there on the arena floor and for those way up at the very back of NRG Stadium in the nosebleed section. And the people watching—even those few who went in without much of an opinion on Brooks either way—couldn't help but respond.
Even if you started the show looking at the matronly redhead in front of you with a raised eyebrow, you found yourself singing and dancing along with her when it became clear that she did not intend to let her rear hit the seat again for the entire show. (Song after song, the woman never took her eyes off the singer's face, staring at him with such palpable adoration you could tell she would leave her husband in a heartbeat to get with the famed country singer, and her husband was well aware of this truth, had lived with it for some time already, and was cool with it.) The performance was all as it should be, really. The sheer exuberant effort of Brooks and his band just had to be met with nothing less than absolute appreciation.
When he took off his white cowboy hat and mopped his face, catching his breath for a second, and you could see that the 56-year-old singer's striped shirt was almost completely soaked, he shook that off too, gulping some water and then launching into another crowd favorite. (Every single song was a "crowd favorite" though. This guy knew his audience, and they knew his material down to the fiddle parts.) "You guys, I could do this all night! I love it," he said.
He didn't have to, though. By the time he got done playing, even the most ardent of fans were satisfied, letting off a gut-shaking roar of appreciation as he was driven out of the stadium in the bed of a black Ford pickup. It also probably helps that this isn't the last time RodeoHouston will be seeing Brooks this time around. He's also playing the closing night show, and it seems pretty obvious it's going to be excellent. Like, screaming-along-to-a-Garth-Brooks-song-like-you-know-the-words good.