Guerilla Improv: Chris Gaines Initiative

Nov 5, 2007, 5:45 PM

Agent Donnelly, Agent Stewart, Agent Marks, Agent Henley, Agent Connerly, Agent Bannon

Photography by Curt Rierson of

Agent Donnelly:

I used to have a serious addiction to the VH1 series Behind the Music during the late 90's and early 00's. One afternoon, I was entranced by an episode on some huge star named Chris Gaines that I had never even heard of before. It was a good story - full of car crashes and people dying in airplane misadventures - and I watched the whole thing. Only at the end of the episode was it revealed that Chris Gaines is really Garth Brooks. Soon after this episode, the series all but stopped making new episodes, and I blamed Garth Brooks. I vowed that one day I would get even with Garth Brooks for wasting my time and potentially ruining my beloved series. Eight years later, no one has heard from "Chris Gaines". Garth Brooks is in "retirement", and he announced a nine show run at the Sprint Center earlier this fall. Nine shows, and not one of them a Chris Gaines show. Whats the deal? What happened to Chris Gaines?

We decided to form the Chris Gaines Initiative (CGI) to find out the whereabouts of Chris Gaines. Was he alive? What did Garth do to him? Highly successful musicians don't just drop off the face of the earth! Our group interpretations of the mission of the CGI varied wildly. Agent Marks seemed to believe that there was a large conspiracy at play - that Garth Brooks only assumed the identity of Chris Gaines to hide the fact that he is missing. Imaginary people don't have corpses, after all. My character believed that there were just too many questions and lies out there, and that we had to find Chris Gaines and get the truth. As a whole, we all just wanted to know that Chris Gaines is alive and well and we want him to record more of his "beautiful" music.

We decided to "protest" Garth's first of nine concerts by making signs, using chants, and handing out missing person flyers. We would get the answers to our questions, and bring justice to the missing Chris Gaines. Now I will say that Garth Brooks seems like a kind, giving and down-to-earth man, but he had this coming.

We gathered our signs and video camera and headed to the Sprint Center two hours before the concert was scheduled to begin. Every television news crew and country radio station was parked outside. We started at a bar across the street and decided to "march" to the Sprint Center. Just as we prepared to cross Truman Road, a police escorted tour bus and a limosene went through the intersection and into the artist entrance. We held our sign and yelled things about Chris Gaines. Hopefully, Mr. Brooks was looking.

Immediately, we began to work the growing line, and we faced our first challenge. No one seemed to care or notice. Everyone was perfectly content standing in line, bored and expressionless. We kicked it up a notch, and we started to get some reactions. For awhile, I was worried that the eight-year void had been too great and people had completely forgotten the Chris Gaines fiasco. People told us to shut up, people told us to go home, people called us douche bags - but we kept on working the line, holding our signs, shouting our chants. One man attempted to intentionally trip one of our agents. We were approached by both Sprint Center officials and the police and were deemed harmless by both.

At first, we probably appeared to be mere hecklers, but once we all found our characters and really started to work the line with one-on-one interactions, we began to get smiles, laughs, and real conversations going. When Agent Henley arrived with the Missing Person flyers, people really started to listen to us. Asking "Have you seen my friend Chris?" was a nice, deceptive way to get someone to take a flyer (and then laugh).

When someone would say "Chris is dead" I would ask to see the body. People with successful careers don't just disappear. Another popular crowd retort was "Chris isn't real!" That's what they want you to think! We interviewed one woman who had met Chris Gaines, and she was a great sport, laughing as she insisted that he was the same person.

Once the doors opened and the line began to move, we had a much higher success rate. People clamored for a flier and were over joyed to tell us that "Chris is inside" or "Chris is dead."

At the end of the night we had passed out 300 flyers. Though we only received 6 signatures on our petition (one with an e-mail address ending in "")

We ended the night on top of the stairs just outside the box office. Agent Bannon "cried" hysterically and Agent Marks comforted her. After our final round of chants ("Where did Chris Gaines go? We want to know!") we had a television interview and called it a night, convinced we "Really got the word out" and that "Tips would start to come in".

My theory - Just like Texas, the country fans that are hardcore enough to wait outside an arena for several hours in the cold and wind do not want to be messed with. They are either apathetic or mean, tell you to go home and then turn around and play along with or laugh at some jackass in a Wolf mascot costume. The ones that have tailgated and are in a moving line will completely play along.

And, seriously, what did happen to Chris Gaines? The world may never know.

Agent Connerly :

My favorite part was having to interact with people in the crowd who know me otherwise. Talk about times its hard to not break character!

Agent Marks :

Some highlights that stand out for me:

1) More than any other mission, this one was born from collective brainstorming. Someone thought it would be fun to target the masses outside the Garth's concert, someone else brought up Chris Gaines, someone else brought up the missing person concept The details came together from many minds.

2) As with many missions, a small percentage of people completely "got it" immediately, and repeatedly told us, "I love it!" It's hard to stay in character and say, "Thank you. We love looking for our missing rock idol, too." One woman agreed to take our bright yellow poster demanding "WHERE IS CHRIS GAINES?" and hold it up inside the arena during the concert.

3) Our mention in USA Today. No doubt Garth and his publicity people now know we were there, if there was ever any doubt. We think Garth probaly got a kick out of it.

4) We were interviewed as a group by a film crew from Great American Country, a cable TV channel. Their special on Garth airs November 18, apparently, and they may include us. She and her camera man had trouble holding back their laughter as we argued for our cause.

5) Agent Bannon and I were interviewed by a local country radio station, 106.5 the Wolf. The interviewer "got it," and tried to trip me up by asking about my favorite song and least favorite song. I had done JUST enough research to have answers -- "Lost in You," and I love all of them.

6) A repeated theme as we handed out fliers and talked with people in line: Parents laughing while teenagers stared blankly at us. You had to be paying attention in 1999 to know Chris Gaines.

7) The woman who said she met Chris Gaines at his Saturday Night Live taping, because once, Garth came out "in character." She agreed on camera that we could misinterpret her words and manipulate what she said on camera. Thanks!

8) The week before the concerts kicked off, I called Garth's record company, Big Machine Records. I got a recording, explaining that I was from the Chris Gaines Initiative, and asking to speak with publicity people for Mr. Brooks. To this day, they have not called me back. What are they trying to hide???

USA Today [archive]
Outside the arena: A group of young performance artists passed out ironic "missing person" flyers. The person in question: Chris Gaines, the invented pop persona Brooks briefly adopted in 1999.

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