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Garth Brooks show unifies Yankee Stadium crowd

Garth Brooks sings "Rodeo" to a capacity crowd

Garth Brooks sings "Rodeo" to a capacity crowd at Yankee Stadium on Friday, July 8, 2016, the first night of his two-concert stop in New York, his first since 1997. Credit: AP / Julie Jacobson

Garth Brooks put a little extra zing into the line “to forget about life for a while” in his final encore of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” and the capacity crowd at Yankee Stadium Friday night roared with approval.

After a week of one shockingly brutal event after another, seemingly everyone was looking for an escape, and Brooks was more than happy -- often giddy, in fact -- to deliver one.

And for nearly two hours, that’s exactly what the country superstar did in his first New York concert since drawing an estimated one million people to Central Park in 1997.

Brooks opened the show with “Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up),” running laps around the massive circular walkway that stretched from the main stage in deep center field to nearly second base until he was winded and sweating. That may not be a rock star move, but it’s pure Garth -- a way to show his excitement for the night, his gratitude to the fans and his vulnerability. The solo artist who sold the most albums in the 20th century, Brooks proudly carries himself as a regular guy -- an extension of his belief that regular folks do extraordinary things.

He addressed the events of the week early on, introducing the anthem “People Loving People.” “Everybody’s been asking us if there’s going to be some kind of statement about what happened yesterday down in Dallas,” Brooks said onstage. “We have the same statement for what happened in Orlando down in Florida, or what happened over in Paris at a concert. People, we’ve got to love one another . . . It’s our only hope.”

The crowd responded with chants of “U!S!A!”

Brooks’ concerts at Yankee Stadium Friday and Saturday are being filmed for possible release, directed by Northport’s Jon Small, who directed Billy Joel’s “Live at Yankee Stadium” film in 1990. Before the show, Small told the crowd, “A Garth show is about the audience,” adding that half of the 23 cameras in the building were trained on them.

So were the eyes of Brooks, who pointed at fans and returned fans’ heart signs with his hands all night. “I hope y’all came to sing because that’s what we’re going to do all night,” he said before busting out “Two Pina Coladas” as the crowd screamed along. He added later, “Tell me it’s gonna be like this all night long.”

When it came time to deliver his classic singalong “Friends in Low Places,” Brooks received some help from a higher power, as the skies opened and drenched everyone in a downpour that only added to the song’s festive feel. Brooks couldn’t help but laugh at the timing and the sight of the crowd jumping around in the rain and embracing the moment.

The show had its big moments -- the rocking “Calling Baton Rouge,” the poignant version of “The Dance.” But the most memorable ones were quieter, when it was just Brooks and his acoustic guitar and the crowd, singing along to “To Make You Feel My Love” and “Piano Man,” enjoying the shared experience.

Brooks felt it too, saying, “Thanks for treating me like one of you.”

SETLIST: Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up) / Rodeo / Two Pina Coladas / People Loving People / That Summer / The Thunder Rolls / The River / Papa Loved Mama / In Another’s Eyes (with Trisha Yearwood) // TRISHA YEARWOOD SET: When Will I Be Loved / How Do I Live / She’s in Love With the Boy (with Garth Brooks) // Shameless / Calling Baton Rouge / Friends in Low Places / The Dance // ENCORES: Standing Outside the Fire / She’s Every Woman / To Make You Feel My Love / Wrapped Up in You / Piano Man

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