By David Cantwell, Special for USA TODAY
The event: Garth Brooks plays the first of nine sold-out concerts in Kansas City, Mo., a stand that translates to 160,000 tickets sold. The final performance, on Nov. 14, will be broadcast live in movie theaters around the country.
The venue: The Sprint Center is the just-unveiled centerpiece of Kansas City's ongoing downtown renaissance. Later this month, the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame opens right next door and, this spring, a nine-block, mixed-use entertainment district is set to open right across the street. Brooks was on hand for the arena's ribbon-cutting ceremony in September.
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.
The opening act: Trisha Yearwood, the headliner's wife and a country star in her own right. The standout moment of her short set was a powerful version of the 1992 hit Wrong Side of Memphis, which rocked as hard as any song all night and showed off her voice's bluesy lower register.
Sign of the times: When Brooks released the single We Shall Be Free in 1992, its pro-gay and anti-racist themes amounted to what was at that time one of the least successful singles of his career. Fifteen years later, it brought down the house, receiving one of the show's biggest ovations during an evening that was sometimes almost more ovation than music.
Overheard, repeatedly, throughout the arena: Men shouting "We love you, Garth," as they slow danced with their wives.
Onstage quotable: "Even though I only use this guitar to hide my gut," Brooks joked, "I can still play."
The final encore: Brooks alone with his guitar and singing the hits of his idols — James Taylor, Merle Haggard, Bob Seger, George Strait and Don McLean — because he and the band had already "played all of the songs we practiced."
Most memorable moment: Brooks seemed surprised and overwhelmed throughout the show by the duration and intensity of the crowd's applause; the arena's big screen revealed the singer tearing up more than once. Near the end of the concert, he commented to the crowd about his long time away from the stage: "For the last nine years, I've watched my children grow. I don't love that any less now. But tonight you've made me feel like I used to feel."
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