According to the Recording Industry Association of America, the top-selling artists in history are, in order: The Beatles, Garth Brooks and Elvis Presley. The Beatles and Presley are no longer with us. Brooks officially retired in 2001 to raise his three daughters. That retirement ends Friday night in Las Vegas.
His song "Two of a Kind" seems appropriate for the occasion: There's Lady Luck, a wild card and the title. Yes, it refers to lovers, but in this case, we'll bend it a bit to make it business partners. A couple of months ago, Brooks and Steve Wynn, who owns the Encore Hotel where Brooks is playing, sat on stage to announce a five-year deal.
"When Steve Wynn approached me about playing, he did something different than anyone else had," Brooks says.
During the week, Brooks gets to stay home in Oklahoma with his family. On the weekend, he flies to Las Vegas for four shows.
"My life is not gonna change for the next five years, except I'm gonna get to play music, and I'm excited," Brooks says.
And what did it cost to make it happen? Neither Brooks nor Wynn will tell. But if it offers any indication, Wynn says he needed to arrange some custom transportation.
"I will confess, I had to buy him a jet plane," Wynn says.
Garth Brooks hasn't exactly been a recluse since his official "retirement" in 2001. Two years ago, he did some shows in Kansas City and Los Angeles, and then this year, he played at President Obama's inauguration. But this is a performer who built his name in the 1990s by touring — and selling out — big arenas. So a regular gig is a return to old ways.
Longtime country music writer Robert Oermann says he never doubted it would happen, because Brooks loves performing too much. Plus, the long Las Vegas commitment offers a chance to make performing history.
"Other artists have done it, like Cher, Bette Midler, Elton John and other people. But, yeah, this would be a first for a country artist to go into a Vegas casino for an extended run like this," Oermann says.
The Encore Theatre is not an arena. It seats 1,500, not 15,000. Tickets are $125 a piece, which is moderate for Vegas but higher than Brooks has ever charged. When the tickets went on sale, Tammy Guadagnoli used a couple of computers and a couple of phone lines, then waited an hour and a half.
"I got the golden ticket," Guadagnoli says.
Two tickets, actually, for the first show Friday night. She left her husband and kids at home in Pittsburgh for a couple of days and met a girlfriend in Vegas.
Now, Guadagnoli is not a casual Garth Brooks fan. She has seen him perform live 18 times.
"There's just something about him when he gets in a room with his fans and everybody's singing and everybody's behind him," Guadagnoli says. "There's just this feeling that you can't put your finger on, but you only get when you see him."
Brooks is sold out this weekend — and for every show that has been offered so far.