Country superstar Garth Brooks made his Hawaii concert debut Thursday night with the first of four high-energy shows at Blaisdell Arena honoring Pearl Harbor survivors and other military veterans. He returns to the Blaisdell for another performance today and back-to-back shows Saturday.
The concerts, also featuring Trisha Yearwood, Brooks’ wife and a country music star in her own right, cap a week of events commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Tickets were relatively cheap — all seats $69 — for such well-known entertainers, and the couple are donating all net proceeds to nonprofit groups that work to preserve World War II/Pearl Harbor-related memorials in Hawaii.
Several World War II veterans were at Thursday’s show and received two standing ovations from the audience. For the veterans, and Brooks’ fans as well, it was a night to remember. (The performers did not allow a Honolulu Star-Advertiser photographer to cover the event, although concertgoers did not hesitate to post images on social media.)
The mood was set when Brooks received an enthusiastic standing ovation the moment he appeared on stage. He earned it many times over. He told the crowd that after doing “5,000 shows” in the last 25 years, this was the first he was doing by himself, playing guitar with no musicians or vocalists backing him.
“This is my first time like this,” Brooks said, “So if it sucks, forgive me.”
It didn’t suck. Brooks performed with the joy and engaging spirit that has been part of his appeal as an entertainer from the beginning. No other musicians were necessary.
Brooks said he hated to go to a concert and have the artist “drop their entire new album on you.” Therefore he did only one song from his new album, “Gunslinger,” and instead did all the old hits everyone had come to hear. The crowd recognized most of them from the first chords he strummed and sang along, loudly and fully, on almost every one.
“Two Pina Coladas” had the entire arena singing; “Friends in Low Places” did too.
Name your favorite Garth Brooks hit. It was almost certainly on the set list.
The program also contained songs by artists Brooks named as some of his influences and inspirations: George Strait, Randy Travis, James Taylor and Bob Seger, and songs by one of his favorite writers, the late Kim Williams.
Brooks was joined in mid-show by Yearwood, who received a standing ovation as she walked out to join him. Brooks provided all the instrumental backing she needed on “In Another’s Eyes” and “She’s In Love With The Boy.”
Brooks and Yearwood honored the memory of an earlier country music power couple, George Jones and Tammy Wynette, with “Golden Rings.” They also sang “Whiskey to Wine” from “Gunslinger.”
Brooks had some fun with Yearwood introducing another of her early hits, “Walkaway Joe,” saying, “I love this song even though you did it with another man.” (Don Henley sang backing vocals on the original recording).
More relevant to their current relationship was his comment, “My greatest joy is singing next to you.”
Yearwood reciprocated by giving him a long kiss as she was leaving.
The couple picked up where they’d left off romance-wise later in show when they sang another of Yearwood’s early hits, “How Do I Live.” Watching them sing to each other put the lyrics in a new context — about two people in love rather than one worrying about the other leaving — and made it one those “you had to be there” moments.
Brooks seemed to enjoy the evening as much as the fans. “I love this stuff. It’s so cool,” he said at one point.
Later, he turned his attention to the audience, saying, “I cannot thank you enough (for being here).”
His choice of encore material showed the immense range and diversity of his musical interests. He opened the encore with Billy Joel’s “The Piano Man” and closed it with Don McLean’s “American Pie.”
Brooks may never be able to bring the spectacle of his gigantic “World Tour Show” to Honolulu, but his four shows here with Yearwood, commemorating the Pearl Harbor anniversary, are entertainment milestones as well as excellent entertainment.
Additional tickets have been released for the three remaining shows.