Garth Brooks played to a packed KFC Yum! Center. | Photo by Sara Havens

Garth Brooks played to a packed KFC Yum! Center. | Photo by Sara Havens

At a press conference held two hours before the first of four Louisville shows, Garth Brooks told the dozen or so members of the media that back-to-back shows were really not that tough for him, especially since the crowd does most of the singing. While the last part of the statement rang true for Louisville audiences, Brooks, 54, put on an energetic, nonstop performance for nearly two hours straight Friday night, and then had to do it all over again an hour later.

Brooks at the pre-show press conference | Photo by Sara Havens

Brooks at the pre-show press conference | Photo by Sara Havens

Brooks transported the full KFC Yum! Center house back to his ’90s heyday, rolling out the hits like thunder. From “Beaches of Cheyenne” and “Unanswered Prayers” to “The Dance” and “Friends in Low Places” (which he said he first played in Louisville and couldn’t imagine his career without it), he sang each song like it was the first time — and like he had never taken an 18-year break from touring.

Unfortunately, Trisha Yearwood, Brooks’ wife and co-headliner, didn’t make the shows due to an illness. Brooks apologized for her absence, saying she makes him a better person and performer, and that she reminds people exactly what a female vocalist should be.

“She’s truly my soul mate,” Brooks said at the press conference. “She completes my sentences — although she has to dumb herself down to complete my sentences.” He also said she wouldn’t have missed the show unless she just physically couldn’t do it, and he’s unsure but doubtful she’ll make the Saturday night shows.

Brooks became emotional at the press conference when someone asked if he was wary to come out of retirement. He said he was unsure his fans would be waiting for him, and when he got the call that Chicago, the first stop on the tour, had sold three shows and counting (he ended up playing 11), he was truly humbled.

“That makes doing what you do worth it,” he said.

Brooks’ tour has broken more than 30 attendance records so far, and he’s thrilled to be reconnecting with both old and new fans alike. One difference in the audiences from the ’90s and now, he said, was that for the first couple songs, the entire front row has their back to him – “because they’re taking selfies with me and the stage in the background. I win them back by the third song, though, so it’s all good.”

Brooks wraps up one of four Louisville concerts. | Photo by Sara Havens

Brooks wraps up one of four Louisville concerts. | Photo by Sara Havens

He called Merle Haggard the greatest country artist who ever lived and payed tribute to him throughout the show. “There’s not going be sorrow,” he said. “I’m going to honor him like any musician would — it’s gonna be a party.”

Garth Brooks takes the stage once again tonight, April 9, at 7 and 10:30 p.m. While there were lines getting through security and a bit of chaos getting the 7 p.m. crowd out and the 10:30 crowd in, I didn’t see any major snafus, and people seemed to be in their seats by the time he took the stage.