Garth Brooks packs 70,000 friends in low places into Ford Field celebration

The country superstar, sporting a Barry Sanders jersey, played the hits and more to a huge crowd in Detroit Saturday night

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Garth Brooks played for 70,000-plus friends in low places, high places and just about every place you can imagine inside Ford Field on Saturday night.

The country megastar packed 'em in at a high energy, high wattage two-hour, 10-minute show that in sheer numbers alone was the biggest concert in the building's 18-year history, and among the highest attended events ever at the Detroit Lions' home. 

It topped any Lions game and most concerts, since the stage's in-the-round configuration allowed for seats to be sold around the entire building. The current Ford Field record holder for attendance is WrestleMania 23, which squeezed a reported 80,103 fans inside the building in April 2007, although it's an open secret that Vince McMahon's attendance figures tend to be as contrived as the pre-determined outcomes of WWE matches. 

By any measurement, Saturday's show was huge. Brooks, clad in a Barry Sanders Detroit Lions jersey, entered from a lift underneath the drum riser, in a set-up that made it look like he was hoisting the drums above his head by sheer muscle power. 

Garth Brooks performs at Ford Field on February 22, 2020 in Detroit.

It was that kind of performance strength that he flexed throughout the evening, barreling through 30 songs — culled mostly from his untouchable string of '90s hits — that turned the entire evening into a supersized stadium singalong.

"People, we are psyched for this one!" Brooks exclaimed after "Rodeo," which came early in the set, following opener "All Day Long." It was his first stadium concert of 2020 and the first test of his newly configured stage, a 130-foot by 100-foot albatross that was topped by four massive video screens and LED trimming that connected the stage and the screens. "We are ready to get back to kicking some ass and raising some hell!" 

Brooks — backed by his 10-piece band, players that have been with him for 25-plus years — was exceedingly energetic throughout the evening, acting as the center of attention, his own hype man and the evening's narrator along the way.

He didn't just sing his songs, he pointed out audience members, acknowledged their signs and read them aloud, played to the back of the building, swapped hats with kids in the first row, beat his chest, stretched out his arms, wished "Happy Birthday" to at least two audience members and left everything he had out there for all to see. (You could say he played to the cheap seats, but every seat in the venue was sold for the same price, $94.95.) 

Garth Brooks performs at Ford Field on February 22, 2020 in Detroit.

He sprinted from one end of the stage to the other, riled up the crowd and made the show feel spontaneous, even if that spontaneity was part of the script. "The next song in the setlist is a slow song," he said, following "Papa Loved Mama." "Screw that, we're gonna skip right over that," he said, segueing into "Two Piña Coladas," which was probably the plan all along. But the important thing is he sold it like he was changing things up in the moment, like the true showman he is. 

Brooks is old school in that way, a pure entertainer and a big ol' ham. He comes from a different era of superstars and was minted in the 1990s, when you didn't need to pay attention to country music to know every one of Brooks' hits. He was mega in a way that's nearly impossible to achieve now, which is why he's able to pack stadiums in 2020 even though the bulk of the material in his setlist is 20-plus years old. He made his bones as an over-the-top performer, and he's still playing with that same zeal. 

There's nothing cool about Brooks, but his sheer force of will is enough to overpower just about any naysayer. And that's what puts him in a class by himself.

For a 58-year-old, he played like he was still the 27-year-old who played his first major gig at Detroit's Downtown Hoedown in 1989. He mentioned that show as well as an early Fox Theatre date, and continually put Detroit over throughout the evening.

Garth Brooks performs at Ford Field on February 22, 2020 in Detroit.

The Sanders jersey, he said, was a nod to his fellow Oklahoma State University alum, whom he called "the greatest player in NFL history, in my opinion," in addition to "one of the greatest human beings" he has ever known. "It's an honor to wear this jersey tonight," he said. 

Portions of Saturday's concert were recorded for an upcoming live album, including "All-American Kid," which he coached the audience through on how to react. "When you hear the big man start singing, that's when you really go through the roof," he said.

Afterward, he said he was checking the playback in his headset with somebody "in the truck" — again, likely all part of the show — and when the feedback came back "fabulous," he again heaped praise upon the crowd. 

For all the might of the performance, the energy flagged following "Friends in Low Places," during a loose encore that saw Brooks working through a handful of on-the-fly covers and album tracks, including Billy Joel's "Piano Man" and his own "People Loving People."

Garth Brooks performs at Ford Field on February 22, 2020 in Detroit.

Here there was true spontaneity, as he was working without a net and performing material people requested off of handmade signs, but given the pacing it would have been better suited to a mid-set segment than the encore. 

Closer "Standing Outside the Fire" finished off the night, and as Brooks exited the stage he hoisted a Detroit Lions flag from the audience that was emblazoned with the phrase "Detroit (hearts) Garth."

The love was strong inside Ford Field on Saturday, from places high and low and everywhere in between. "Michigan feels like home," Brooks said early in the night, and his big show certainly had the energy of a homecoming.