When you think about Garth Brooks’ greatest hits, “Friends in Low Places” and “The Thunder Rolls” might come to mind.
But his lesser-known anthem calling for tolerance and understanding still resonates today, he told The News Tribune on Friday before kicking off a three-day, five-concert run at the Tacoma Dome.
“Can I tell you I think ‘We Shall Be Free’ is more poignant and more fitting today than it was 25 years ago?” Brooks said. “That’s good and bad.”
In 1992, a jury acquitted four police officers who were caught on tape beating Rodney King, a black man. Brooks said he was inspired to write the song after riots gripped Los Angeles for five days following that verdict.
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Brooks said Friday that “We Shall Be Free” still has the potential to be a unifying force.
At the time it was released, it was anything but.
Some radio DJs refused to play the song because of a single line: “When we're free to love anyone we choose.” Many saw it as an allusion to gay marriage, which would not be legalized nationwide for decades.
Back then, Brooks said he was asked if he would stand behind the song.
When the last thing we notice is the color of skin — And the first thing we look for is the beauty within — When the skies and the oceans are clean again — Then we shall be free
“We Shall Be Free”
“Hell yeah, I’ll stand behind this song,” he said Friday. “Today? I’ll stand behind it even more.”
On the 25th anniversary of “We Shall Be Free,” Brooks re-released a music video featuring famous actors and politicians — including Al Gore, former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Michael J. Fox.
“What that song is saying is simple: Love one another. Show tolerance. Show patience. We are in this together,” Brooks said Friday.
Brooks is the world’s bestselling solo artist, eclipsing even Elvis Presley. Only The Beatles have sold more records than Brooks, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.
Brooks’ songs of love, loss, redemption and courage have inspired millions of fans. His wife, Trisha Yearwood, country-music royalty in her own right, will be joining him on stage this weekend before more than 100,000 people.
It’s been a rough year for many people, but Yearwood said she’s an eternal optimist.
“I think underneath it all there is still a lot of good,” she told The News Tribune. “We do have a lot to be thankful for, and we need to take care of those people who are hurting right now and then they’ll take care of us when it’s our turn to hurt.”
Earlier this year, in the middle of their cross-continental tour, Brooks was caught up in a political firestorm when he declined to perform at President Donald Trump’s inauguration after being invited by casino mogul Steve Wynn. Brooks had performed at President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2008.
At the time Brooks told his fans in a Facebook chat that demand for his Cincinnati shows pushed his one-weekend visit across two weekends, precluding his performance at the Jan. 20 inauguration.
Will this be his last long tour?
“I’m not sure how we can ever tour like this again,” Brooks said. “I hate like hell to admit that. I’m just getting older.”
Brooks’ Anthology Part 1, which chronicles the first five years of his music career, will be released Nov. 14.