Smile Politely

The Thunder Rolls On to Champaign-Urbana: The Garth Brooks World Tour with Trisha Yearwood

Walking together hand-in-hand upon a press conference podium normally staged for Fighting Illini basketball coaches and players are two of country’s biggest stars, here for a packed weekend at the State Farm Center. For the first time in 20 years, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood have made their way back to Champaign for an astounding four shows in three days. “The reason why we’re here is because we’ve been here,” says Brooks, winner of the CMA Entertainer of the Year award a record 5 times. “This place knows its country music.” For a man that remains the #1 selling solo artist in the United States, it’s hard to believe that one could be as humble as Garth Brooks, who had nothing but glowing things to say about the community. “It’s the college part that I love about this place. There are other universities in this country that are more so ‘professional institutions’, but this town is a COLLEGE town. It’s like Oklahoma State, so it feels as if I’m coming home”. When asked about the four shows, Brooks smiled and said, “I know this town: they’re going to treat the day show on Saturday like gameday. If the weather holds up, you might even see some tailgating.”

Trisha Yearwood also noted how excited she was about exploring what Champaign-Urbana has to offer. The “CEO with Southern charm” holds her own fair share of accolades including multiple Grammy awards and platinum records, but has also developed her own unique branding empire, which includes cookbooks, fragrances, and home accessories. Being the host of an Emmy-winning cooking show on Food Network also gives Yearwood incentive to explore all the best restaurants in town. “We always ask ‘what’s the thing to do? Where’s the best place to eat? We don’t want to miss anything special about the city. Every town has their ‘thing’, so we’ve had chances on this tour to see more than just the arena and the hotel, which has been nice.” When asked about the differences between performing now compared to 20 years ago, Yearwood stated that “What I find interesting are the different generations of the audience members. The people that would come to our show 25 years ago were our age, or a little bit younger. Now those people are parents, and their kids also come to the show. The way we listened to music when we were kids is so different than the way our children listen. I love watching these kids who were not born when ‘She’s in Love with a Boy’ or ‘The Thunder Rolls’ came out sing every word at the show”.

What started in 2014 with 11 sold out shows in Chicago has now made its way to C-U in 2017 with the intention of putting on a series of knock-down, drag-out performances for everyone that fill up the State Farm Center. “It’s like a sporting event,” Brooks notes. “We call it ‘championship wrestling put to music.’”

Following the press conference, I was able to chat for a couple of minutes with each artist, gauging their thoughts on the tour, their body of work, and music in general.

Trisha Yearwood

Smile Politely: So this is really random, but last year I worked at Kohl’s over the summer, and everyday I would hear your song “PrizeFighter” over the PA, so I was wondering if you had any more upcoming collaborations with Kelly Clarkson?

Trisha Yearwood: Reba McEntire and I sang on Kelly’s Christmas Album, then did “PrizeFighter,” and we just sang on Reba’s Gospel record, so we’re always looking for the next thing, so I’m sure there will be more, we don’t have anything right this second but we’re always looking for something to do together. She’s amazing!

SP: How has the tour been so far?

Yearwood: It’s been so much fun. It took me a while to get in the groove of it because I’ve toured a lot in my career, but never like this, it’s been pretty intense. But now I’m really enjoying it and I think it’s going to come to a close long before I want it to, it goes by fast.

SP: What is music?

Yearwood: It’s really the soundtrack of your life. I think about how music influenced me as a little kid. Even when I was five years old, I was a huge Elvis fan. I always felt like music touched me in a way that it didn’t touch my friends. It really grabbed a hold of me and it’s such a part of everything we do. It’s a part of our happy moments, our sad moments, our hard moments, our easy moments, so you have to have it in your life.

Garth Brooks

Smile Politely: Tomorrow, April 29th, marks the 25th anniversary of the L.A. Riots, which would go on to inspire you to write “We Shall Be Free”. Could you give us a retrospective of that day and that song?

Garth Brooks: Trisha and I were in Los Angeles that night at the American Country Music Awards, 25 years ago. I had just gotten through my performance getting dressed back into my tux, when a guy named Travis Tritt comes in and says, “Guys, they just released the verdict, and this place is burning down.” So us being Okies, we were like, “Let’s get on the bus and get the hell out of here,” and we did; we didn’t stop until the Grand Canyon. They had payphones then, I don’t know if you know what those are (laughs), but I went to the one at the Grand Canyon, I called Stephanie Davis and asked her, “Are you seeing what’s going on out here?” At that point we had already started writing a song about loving one another, and she goes, “I’m way ahead of you, the song is called ‘We Shall Be Free,’’’ and that’s how it started. It was a tragic night, but hopefully if there was something good that came out of it then it’s a night that lives forever in a good way.

SP: What is music?

Brooks: Music is the voice of God, the voice of hope, and it’s the thing you can stand on that isn’t there. There’s a great song that says, “Faith won’t move that mountain, but it’ll get you to the other side,” and that’s what music is. Music is that thing that gets you to the other side.

SP: What do you think your biggest accomplishment is?

Brooks: My babies, I would say, it’s always about your children. I’m always proud of Trisha, and how she handles herself. I’m proud to be a son of God, child of my parents, but the thing that astounds me the most is that these people in the arena show up. I don’t know why! I wouldn’t for me. I would for [Trisha] though.

Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood played a show this evening, and will play two shows tomorrow and one on Sunday. Tickets are still on sale. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit

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