Opinion

Garth Brooks puts giddy in Tacoma’s giddyup

Garth Brooks fans line up at Key Arena in Seattle in 1998, the last time the superstar singer-songwriter performed in the Puget Sound area. He hasn’t given a show in Tacoma since 2003. But he’s coming back for five concerts this weekend.
Garth Brooks fans line up at Key Arena in Seattle in 1998, the last time the superstar singer-songwriter performed in the Puget Sound area. He hasn’t given a show in Tacoma since 2003. But he’s coming back for five concerts this weekend. News Tribune file photo, 1998

After waiting nearly a quarter century for Garth Brooks to return to Tacoma, his long-suffering local fans might wonder why the country music legend is spoiling them with five shows at the Tacoma Dome this weekend.

Could it be that Brooks belatedly discovered a soft spot for our city? That the megastar who’s sold more albums than Elvis Presley sees Tacoma as a sort of Shangri-La, a remote place to escape life’s cares, worries and broken relationships?

Fans might draw that conclusion in light of Brooks’ 2014 release of a song called “Tacoma.” The chorus includes heartbreak lyrics typical of the genre: “I’m burning your memory, one mile at a time, all the way to Tacoma, by then I hope you’re out of my mind.”

The reality’s not quite so romantic. The City of Destiny is just another stop on Brooks’ three-year world tour with wife and fellow country royalty Trisha Yearwood. And while five shows in three days would be a big commitment for most artists, doing multiple shows in one city is standard practice for the indefatigable Brooks. From Tacoma, the tour buses roll to Spokane for an even longer run: seven concerts in seven days.

But make no mistake: Local shops, restaurants and hotels are thrilled about T-Town’s temporary transformation into G-Town. Nearly half the 100,000 concert goers (assuming all shows sell out, as expected) will be out-of-towners with money to spread around.

Brooks puts the giddy in Tacoma’s giddyup. Local tourism officials predict a $12.5 million economic impact, according to a TNT story by staff writer Debbie Cockrell.

As the Tacoma Dome comes up on its 35th anniversary next year, it’s worth pausing to reflect on the venue’s economic value, structural endurance and cultural staying power compared to, say, Seattle’s Kingdome, which lived to be just 24.

True, the honeymoon is long over — those exciting early years when the paint was fresh, the indoor neon sculpture was edgy and sports fans turned out in force to cheer the Tacoma Stars, Tacoma Rockets and, for one season, the Seattle SuperSonics.

What’s remarkable these days is how the aging Dome has settled into a nice groove as a destination mid-size concert arena. Kim Bedier, the city’s venue director, told us this week that the share of Dome revenue generated by concerts has grown from 51 percent in 2015 to 60 percent in 2016 to 67 percent so far this year — before Brooks’ tickets sales are accounted for.

Over the summer, the Dome enjoyed a string of sold-out shows by pop music giants Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, Kendrick Lamar and Ed Sheeran. But the venue has a sterling track record among country artists in particular, hosting sellouts this year by Blake Shelton and Tim McGraw/Faith Hill. In the months ahead, Miranda Lambert and Shania Twain will pack the house.

And then there’s Brooks, whose return to the Tacoma Dome was a long-planned, well-kept secret. Bedier said the superstar’s concert handlers put a hold on these dates five years ago.

“We’re going to crack the champagne if we hit 100,000,” Bedier said. “When you think about it, that’s half the population of Tacoma over a five-day period.”

So let’s give a hearty yippee-ki-yay for Tacoma’s urban cowboy appeal as we welcome Garth Brooks for a visit that will set local cash registers ringing.

After selling out two shows at the Tacoma Dome in 1993, he’s finally making his way back to the only city north of Cheyenne, Wyoming, he ever named a song for.

One mile at a time.

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