Approaching Autzen Stadium on Saturday was far different than a typical walk to the historic football stadium. Instead of college students dressed head to toe in University of Oregon duck gear, throngs of country music fans sported brown leather cowboy boots, rhinestone-covered jeans and classic 10-gallon cowboy hats — all ready to see the top-selling solo artist in American history. Country legend Garth Brooks played the sold-out show for a record-breaking 60,000 attendees.
The city of Eugene filled with Garth Brooks fans celebrating the upcoming concert. Eugene was the only west coast stop in Brooks’ stadium tour, drawing fans from across the west coast to the June 29th show. In preparation for the show, fans packed into every parking lot around the stadium, all the way to the Valley River Center mall and began tailgating as early as six hours before the concert started.
An hour before the show, cheers from Autzen Stadium echoed across the Willamette River. People chanted Brooks’ name, sang his songs and carried signs proclaiming their love and dedication to him.
As the performance approached, a countdown was presented on the stage screens. “This is your five-minute countdown,” an announcer told the crowd. Everyone rose from the seats, threw their hands in the air and anxiously awaited his arrival. The timer hit 10 seconds and the 60,000-large crowd joined in for a countdown.
Brooks’ 10-member band came running out on the stage, beginning the instrumental introduction of his hit song, “All Day Long.” Brooks, wearing his wide-brimmed cream cowboy hat and brown leather boots, walked out with his acoustic guitar in hand, truly bringing the energy of Nashville to Eugene.
Brooks and his band were in their element — back on stage, performing for a crowd filled with dedicated fans.
The stadium erupted in cheers at the sight of him.
“Man, now I see why they call this the loudest place on earth! We are gonna have some fun tonight,” Brooks exclaimed to the crowd.
The clear skies reminded Brooks of a common idiom he had heard about the stadium. The audience joined in with him and yelled, “it never rains in Autzen!” He affirmed while that may be true, there was sure to be some thunder that night. The speakers roared with sounds of thunder as the guitar and fiddle-driven song “The Thunder Rolls” began. An obvious crowd favorite, people in the crowd jumped up and down.
His next song, “We Shall Be Free,” an anthem about a world where “the first thing we notice is the beauty within,” was accompanied by a choir of 800 members from local Eugene churches. His background vocalist of 27 years, Robert Bailey, an Oregon native, helped orchestrate the performance with the choir, Brooks said. Bailey spent the last two weeks secretly practicing with the ensemble in preparation for the show, the Register-Guard reported.
Brooks continued delivering special moments for Autzen. He carried on the Oregon tradition of singing “Shout” by the Isley Brothers at nearly every event. Bailey, who acted in the “Shout” scene from the film “Animal House,” kicked off the rendition with the 800-person ensemble. The choir and crowd merged as they began dancing and singing with one another. All would throw their hands in the air while singing the chorus, “Shout!”
As the show came to an end, he played one of his most popular hits, “Low Places.” Puddles the Duck and Oregon cheerleaders equipped with confetti cannons joined him on stage. As soon as the chorus hit, confetti filled the stadium, raining over the passionately singing crowd. Brooks paused to hear the audience sing in unison, never missing a single word.
Brooks’ closed the song with a heartfelt sentiment about how, for much of his life, his fans were the ones there for him in those low places. Fans began to cheer him on. The love that he expressed for his fans was more than reciprocated.
As the concert came to a close, many were reluctant to leave. Brooks’ performance was crafted with the intention of bringing something special to Eugene. The record-breaking-sized crowd seemed to agree. After the show had ended, cheers reverberating from the stadium continued to ring across the Willamette.