Eight years after trading in his Stetson and pop music superstardom for domestic life raising his three young daughters, Garth Brooks, the biggest-selling solo performer of all time, has decided to dust off that hat and come out of retirement -- but only on weekends.
Brooks announced Thursday afternoon that he’ll start a series of solo acoustic concerts in the 1,500-seat Encore Theater at the Wynn casino and resort in Las Vegas as part of a multimillion-dollar deal with Steve Wynn, the hotel’s billionaire developer.
“Steve started talking about this kind of show, just Garth and a guitar, because he said he thought it was something people ought to see,” Brooks said. “I said he couldn’t afford me. I was wrong.”
The schedule will see Brooks play one show on Friday, two on Saturday and one on Sunday. The first show will be Dec. 11; tickets for the first five sets of weekend performances will go on sale Oct. 24.
The Wynn deal includes a private jet earmarked for Brooks’ personal use so he can get back home to Oklahoma to spend weekdays shepherding his children to and from school, which was the key reason he cited in deciding to retire in 2001.
“My life is not going to change for the five years we are hoping to do this,” Brooks said. “I’ve cleared it with my girls . . . and that’s all that matters to me.”
Brooks and Wynn also have agreed that either can walk away from the deal, potentially an open-ended run, at any time.
Brooks has sold more than 128 million albums in the U.S., according to the Recording Industry Assn. of America, second only to the Beatles’ 170 million albums. Brooks has outsold the Fab Four -- more than 68 million, to the Beatles’ 58 million -- in the 18 years since Nielsen SoundScan began monitoring retail sales in 1991, two years after Brooks released his first single.
The RIAA lists six of Brooks’ albums with sales of 10 million or more copies each.
During the 1990s he also was one of the most popular concert attractions in the world. Amusement Business magazine ranked his 1996 tour the biggest country music tour in history after it sold 1.8 million tickets.
“I think Garth is a huge attraction,” said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the concert-tracking magazine Pollstar. “He could go headline arenas right now if he wanted to.”
Any lingering questions about Brooks’ drawing power were obliterated in 2007 when he played nine concerts in Kansas City, Mo., in conjunction with the release that fall of his compilation album “The Ultimate Hits.”
He initially planned one show at the 19,000-capacity Sprint Center Arena as a thank you to employees of Wal-Mart, where the album originally was sold exclusively, but demand quickly led to the addition of eight more shows that were opened to the general public. All nine sold out in a matter of minutes.
Two months later he quickly sold out five shows at Staples Center in Los Angeles that were benefits for firefighters and victims of wildfires that had scorched broad swaths of Southern California.
As he had done previously, Brooks insisted the tickets be affordable. Tickets for the Kansas City shows were $25, and for the Staples Center dates the face-value seats topped out at $45.
Tickets for Brooks’ Las Vegas performances will be $125 each.
Brooks carried out Thursday’s news conference in full-showman style. He invited a large group of guests, many of whom had been present when he announced his retirement plan in 2001, to board a plane with him Thursday morning in Nashville, then flew them to the news conference at the Encore.
Several major life events preceded the announcement of Brooks’ retirement. His mother died in 1999, and the following year he and his wife of 14 years, Sandy, were divorced. The couple’s daughters were 8, 6 and 4 at the time. They’re now 17, 15 and 13 and live in Oklahoma with Brooks and singer Trisha Yearwood, whom he married in 2005.
Brooks, widely regarded as one of country music’s savviest businessmen, also was looking ahead, knowing that no act stays at the top forever. He was eyeing a new crop of young male stars such as Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban as the new millennium dawned and chose to bow out while he was still riding high.
“I have respect for artists who keep making music their entire life, but I don’t want to ride that downside of the [sales] curve,” he said in 1996. “You want to be remembered at your best.”
Barbra Streisand sparked grumbling from some of her fans a few years after her highly touted -- and high-priced -- “farewell” concerts when the singer announced she would do some more concerts after all.
But few expect any backlash about Brooks’ change of heart.
“He has so much goodwill built up, he always put on outstanding live shows, nobody ever thought they got taken advantage of by Garth Brooks -- those are all positives working in his favor,” Bongiovanni said. “I think fans all expect [entertainers who retire] to come back sooner or later.”