Garth Brooks on C-U: 'This place stays forever young'

Garth Brooks on C-U: 'This place stays forever young'

CHAMPAIGN — Friday night's performance at State Farm Center was show No. 325 on his world tour with wife Trisha Yearwood, but Garth Brooks hasn't grown tired of playing any of his greatest hits.

Not even "Friends in Low Places."

"I can thank God and Allen Reynolds for that," Brooks told The News-Gazette on Friday, ahead of the first of four shows he'll perform in Champaign this weekend. Reynolds, himself a country singer and iconic producer, taught Brooks long ago the importance of putting together set lists with plenty of variety to keep the crowd (and himself) energized during those long tours.

"He always said 'Make sure when that set list is full, the song coming up next doesn't sound like the song you're singing now, and make sure it doesn't sound like the one you're singing after it,'" Brooks said. "So when you get to go from singing things like 'Rodeo to the River,' all the way to 'We Shall Be Free' to 'Friends in Low Places,' that's a beautiful thing right there. You're covering all your bases."

Upon arriving in Champaign on Friday morning for the first time since 1997, Brooks said he was immediately reminded of the feeling he experienced 20 years ago.

"What I love about this place is it's forever young. A college town can get tired, but this place stays forever young. It's always the same, and it's always lively, which makes you feel young when you're here, which is a nice feeling," he said with a laugh.

Champaign-Urbana holds a special place in Brooks' heart, too. His late mother, Colleen Carroll, "loved this place" because people "really took care of her here."

"I very much worship my mom and miss her to death, so places that made her go, 'Hey, this place, no one is a stranger here,' are special to me. I have to share that opinion with her," he said.

Brooks' tourmate/wife is also enjoying the atmosphere she has experienced so far in her first visit to Champaign. When the tour bus arrived in town this morning, Yearwood and Brooks headed to the Illini basketball facility to meet some members of the team. She especially enjoyed shooting hoops with forward Kipper Nichols — "the nicest kid I've ever met."

"I left thinking, 'I want to meet his parents.' He was so sweet. ... He gave me that feeling of community, that smalltown kind of vibe and it made me feel great," Yearwood said. "It made me feel like it's going to be a lot of fun out there tonight."

Heading into his four-show weekend — three of which will feature Yearwood — Brooks said he plans to make each concert feel a little bit different than the one before it. That's because he knows there are some dedicated fans who may have bought tickets to all four performances, he said.

"We want those people to come out knowing these guys are making an effort to make each show its own show. That's what we want," he said. "There's no greater compliment than somebody who comes up to me and says, 'I've been to 12 shows, and they're all so different,' and I'm sitting over here thinking, 'What show are you going to?'

"I'm just so happy they feel that way. We really try."

Wearing a baseball cap, blue jeans and neon green tennis shoes at Friday afternoon's press conference, the face of country music said he was relaxed and grateful to be back in town after two decades, joking that the renovated State Farm Center looks a lot different than he remembered from his last visit.

When asked whether he plans to climb up into the rafters again like he did during his last appearance in the building, he told the assembled media he didn't want to give away any secrets about the performance he has planned for Champaign.

Regardless of what Brooks has in store, Yearwood guaranteed folks won't leave disappointed.

"When I'm done with my part of the show, I get to watch the rest of Garth's show, and I get to really look at the crowd. There's always so much joy. People laugh, they cry, they remember songs, they hug," she said. "It's just a chance for us to forget all the crazy that's happening in the world right now and really come together for a few hours and let it all go.

"It's really great to see."

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vcponsardin wrote on April 29, 2017 at 11:04 am

Really?!  Seriously?!  "Champaign... forever young"?!  Garth Brooks "loves this place"?!  Champaign "has a special place in his heart"!?  I guess when your whole world is Champaign you believe the contrived tripe professional performers say--the very same stuff they say at every stop on their tour...

billbtri5 wrote on April 30, 2017 at 9:04 am

..I guarantee there is a piece of paper taped on the stage that says " you are in Champaign, Illinois"...