Twenty-one years ago I met a boy — well, two boys to be specific. They were best friends and I was with my best friends and after a very strange first night we all ended up becoming friends for a short time and one of them became my boyfriend for an even shorter time — so short that my own mother doesn’t even remember him. I’ve seen him exactly once since then, and that was nearly two decades ago, too.
And yet to this day, he has left an indelible mark upon my life. You see, I grew up in a place and time where country music was verboten. You just didn’t listen to it if you wanted to be thought of as some version of “cool.” I think we still said that back then. But this boy and his friend — with whom I spent a great deal of time — loved it. I don’t think they listened to anything else. I was in the boy’s bedroom the first time I heard John Anderson’s Straight Tequila Night, which is still one of my favorite songs. (Fast-forward another dozen years to the first months of dating my fiance and we went to see Anderson play at a little bar called The Barn in Sanford, Florida. I guess old Johnny is a pretty big musical deal in my life.)
So the country thing stuck. It isn’t the only music I listen to, but it grew on me. I find it fun but also it can be pretty poignant. After all these years, it finally came full-circle when a friend mentioned one night that the legendary Garth Brooks was going to be in Jacksonville, Florida, for one of his new world tour stops.
I have a couple of his CDs, and like most of America, I love his iconic Friends in Low Places. Even so, I never really thought myself a particularly huge Garth fan. Regardless, he’s Garth Brooks. He’s a legend. I had to see him. And I did — last Saturday night with my best friend of way-too-many-years (who was there when I met the boy and there when I met my fiance and has just always been there for just about everything that has ever mattered whenever possible) and my fiance. I couldn’t wish for two better companions for that night.
Despite my belief that Garth was no more to me than a casual interest, sitting in that arena listening to him play 26 years worth of his music, I realized just how much he had been a part of my life’s soundtrack. Every song held a memory — most good. I was nearly in tears by the end. I barely sat down at all through the entire concert. I have never enjoyed myself that much at another concert ever. Had Garth played every song he ever recorded, we would have been there all night and it still would have been too short.
Others had mentioned that this man puts on a great show, but I had no idea what that meant until I actually experienced it. Every person walked out of that concert with a smile. I don’t think anyone left disappointed.
Garth isn’t young. I’m not sure his exact age, but he’s been recording music since 1988 or 1989 — I was in middle school then and I’m pushing 40 now. Yet he spent hours on that stage, playing guitar, singing, running around, climbing props like he was 5 years old.
I hope I get another chance to see him one day and if you do, go. Just go. Even if you hate country music, even if you have to spend your last penny. Go.
An addendum: I have been listening to Brooks’ music for the last couple days on CDs and MP3 and I had to add that you haven’t experienced him if you haven’t heard him live. He’s 100 times better in person.