Just a few hours before the first of eight Houston concerts over the next week, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood were rarin' to go.
In a back room of the Toyota Center, before two Friday night concerts, the duo bantered like a longtime married couple (which they are) during a wide-ranging press conference that covered such topics as the lack of female singers on country radio, their return to Houston (it's Brooks' first concert here in 17 years) and why the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo holds a special place in his heart because it's where he discovered the wireless mic.
"We saw how it was laid out, (where) you're 100 yards from the nearest person, so when we went out in the dirt, that all went well," Brooks recalled."We went back to stationary mics for about two dates, and although we were in the clubs, we loved the freedom the wireless mics gave us, so we eventually went to wireless mic all the time."
While he believes the Rodeo is "the hardest show on the planet to play because everything you say or sing, a second and a half is going to bounce back and hit you again," he is looking to return sometime after his current tour ends. "I have a great relationship with those guys, I'd love to come back and play that show," he said.
For now, though, he and Yearwood are concentrating on the world tour, which thus far has gone on for nine months and more than 100 shows. Performances this weekend and next weekend at the Toyota Center are the first in Texas on the current tour, "which is odd for me because this is pretty much where you play before you play anywhere else," Brooks said.
"I'm really excited the show is where it's at when we hit Texas. It's a state I'm not from — I'm from Oklahoma, so usually that's not a good thing in Texas, but you've always made me feel like I was welcome. So it's really important for me to put on a show that will be their favorite Garth Brooks show."
While some say a husband and wife shouldn't work together, "We haven't gotten to that point yet," said Brooks, adding that he and Yearwood will have been married a decade this December.
"This is my best friend, the love of my life. The difference in touring in the '90s and touring now is Trisha Yearwood for me. I know what to do with the two or three hours on stage, but I don't know what to do with the other 20 hours of my life (each day). Musicians and artists, we don't. Now that she's here, it makes every hour of the day feel like that time on stage, so for me, I love it," he said.
"The difference in touring in the '90s and touring now is Trisha Yearwood for me," Brooks said.
Yearwood recalled that at their last press conference, a reporter asked them to list the positive and negative things about touring together. "Neither one of us had a negative thing to say. Later I said, 'Were you being nice to the press or is there something's that bugging you?' He said 'No, I couldn't think of anything.' And I couldn't either. It really is true. We really enjoy each other's company."
"When we got married we said we didn't want to be together to be apart. We do everything together. It's fun."
Indeed, during a 30-minute press conference and in individual interviews afterwards, the couple has an easy comaraderie that seemed unforced. At one point, Brooks looked down at Yearwood's black booties and cracked, "Those are cute shoes." At another point, she jumped in to ask him a question. "And your name is?" he asked, just as he did to every reporter who quizzed him.
Favorite singers and Tomato-gate
When asked to name singers he enjoys listening to, first on Brooks' list is Jason Aldean.
"My regret for him is he came out with what we call 'muscle country.' It works, so everyone else jumped on it. So now he's got to reinvent himself. That's a tough thing to ask from an artist. But that's what will make an artist into an icon," Brooks said. "It's an interesting dilemma to be in when people are trying to sound like you. It's very flattering, but at the same time, now you're not the unique guy anymore."
"That's an interesting dilemma to be in when people are trying to sound like you. It's very flattering. But at the same time, now you're not the unique guy anymore."
Other favorites include "some of the older guys who are younger than me," the 53-year-old Brooks said, referring to Keith Urban and Kenny Chesney.
The situation among female country singers is not so fruitful, Brooks and Yearwood admitted, referring to "Tomato-gate," a recent controversy that started after a radio consultant said female acts are the equivalent of tomatoes garnishing the salad of the country format and were better left unplayed on the radio.
"I personally am a fan of female music," Brooks said. "Fifty percent of the songs that I have cut are female demos because they come from a different point. I like what they bring and I miss on radio what the women bring."
"As a female artist who in the '90s, I was one of 10 to 12 women with No. 1 records on radio, so I don't get it," said Yearwood, who just turned 50 last fall. "To me good music is good music."
Always known for high energy performances, Brooks says he draws from his audiences. But it's the down time that can affect stamina.
"As long as you're playing music, it doesn't matter how long you are out there. You come offstage and swear you've done 7 minutes and you've done two hours. And when you're dying on stage, 7 minutes feels like two hours. But like (Trisha) said, it's the time between two shows (that's a problem), because you kind of get nervous again and you're worn out and they're bringing in a whole new pack that has all this energy. And they're going to kick your ass if you don't get out there quick," he said.
"I really want to strap a Fitbit to him and see how many steps he walks. He's pretty amazing out there," Yearwood said.
Besides the rodeo, Brooks recalled a long music history in Houston.
"I think I know the audience and I think they know that I'd better bring my helmet and my cup for (every) show."
"The first place we ever played was a little theater downtown; there couldn't have been that many people and they kicked my ass then. Here comes the rodeo, which is a great place to play, The Summit, the Compaq Center, and then in the Woodlands with Miss Yearwood, we've been all around. I think I know the audience and I think they know that I'd better bring my helmet and my cup for (every) show," he said.
"Garth knows every venue, what he was wearing, what the building was called, what color the carpet was. He remembers every single thing, as a wife sometimes that's unnerving. He was very specific about the places that he wanted to play," Yearwood said.
"The tickets on sale in Houston really decided how much time we were going to spend here," Yearwood added. "For me, on this tour, it's been awesome to spend more than one night in the city and really feel the love."
When a TV reporter noted that Brooks "Friends in Low Places" was her "8th grade dance song," Brooks noted that nearly half of the people at his concerts now were not born when that song was a hit in 1990. "So it's weird to look out and you're singing a song that's older than the person on the front row. But that person knows every word, every verse everything," he said.
He noted at a Chicago concert, one male fan didn't seem energized by Brooks performance, but once Yearwood came out, he went wild. "You never know what you are going to get, but I can tell you this, the thing I'm looking most forward to is the first two songs that these people came to sing. When they come to sing, this party is going to be a lot of fun," he said.
When asked by a reporter to comment on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to allow same sex marriage in all 50 states, the couple appeared stunned. Brooks, who has received a number of awards for supporting gay rights, begged off, saying he had been on a plane since 6 that morning and this was news to him.
Yearwood jumped in, saying, "I have a lot of friends, especially in Tennessee, who are looking forward to getting married and wanted to wait until they could get married in the state they live in, so I'm happy for that. Love one another."
Before the concerts, Brooks took time out on Friday to celebrate the grand opening of the newly renovated and expanded Child Life Zone at Texas Children's Hospital. The play space is funded through the Teammates for Kids foundation, which Brooks co-founded in 1999.
Then it was back to work, which the singer, who took a break from performing from 2002 until resuming his career full-time in 2009, has made a top priority again.
"From here I just want to keep going," he explained. "The greatest gift I have ever been granted is the time off to go home and raise my babies. The second greatest gift in my life is the chance to play music again. And now I want to hold onto it as long as I can because I can't imagine anything better than touring with your best friend in life and going around the world."
Bonus reading: Eric Sandler reviews the Garth Brooks Trisha Yearwood Houston concert.