Opinion: the infamous five in a row fiasco at Croke Park in 2014 was a turning point in the megastar's complex relationship with Irish music fans

Garth Brooks is America's greatest selling solo artist of all time. His unprecedented impact on country music transferred to Ireland, but with both positive and negative outcomes. Sure, he wrote a song titled Ireland and released it on a multi-million selling album, but Brooks also caused a fiasco that prompted public protests, Oireachtas Committee hearings and changes to government legislation. 

Brooks’ public humility was crucial to his success as a country singer. Country performers consistently underline the fact that they are really just like their fans - regular people whose life stories resemble that of their listeners. This notion that Brooks is an ordinary person is furthered by the fact that he remained accessible during his time in Ireland by staging lengthy autograph signing sessions, impromptu performances and sightseeing.

In 1994, Brooks started his world tour in Dublin where 68,000 people saw him perform across eight nights at the Point Depot. The sold out concerts drew the largest audience for an event in Dublin since the Pope’s visit in 1979. Brooks returned to Ireland in 1997 to play three nights in Croke Park, but mostly to perform "Friends In Low Places" from the roof of a minibus in Bray.

From RTÉ Archives, Marian Richardson reports for RTÉ News on Garth Brooks performing in Bray in 1997

In March 1998, NBC aired Garth Brooks: Ireland and Back, which included interviews and behind-the-scenes footage of Brooks preparing for his string of Irish shows. The 90-minute TV special attracted an audience of millions, bringing his relationship with his Irish fans to international attention.

Brooks temporarily retired from the public eye in 2001 and announced his 2014 comeback with two concerts in Croke Park that July. Due to demand, a five night run was planned in the stadium, the first in the venue’s history and the fastest-selling event promoters Aiken Promotions had ever been involved in.

From RTÉ Prime Time, a look at the Garth Brooks' Croke Park fiasco

And then, the thunder rolled and it all went wrong. Dublin City Council announced it was only granting a license for three of the planned gigs. The country star insisted upon playing five shows or none at all. With that, 400,000 refunds were issued and thousands of cowboy hats went unsold. 

In a 2019 Netflix documentary The Road I’m On, Brooks stated "I never wanted to be the guy that ever was in a controversial anything." In other words, he didn’t mean to cause a big scene. However, when Brooks refused to play any of the five concerts, he showed his potential to be divisive and disappoint his supporters.

In doing so, the singer called into question the legitimacy of his previous public expressions of affection for Ireland and his Irish fans. Had he really been sincere in these expressions? By provoking such a question, Brooks cast doubt on his own previous affirmations of sincerity, an important value in the relationship between an artist and their fans.

From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland in July 2014, Dublin Lord Mayor Christy Burke says the Mexican ambassador had offered to intervene in the Garth Brooks' Croke Park row

The combined purchasing power of committed Irish fans made Garth Brooks a megastar, an artist who broke industry records in selling concert tickets and albums in Ireland. But when Brooks refused to compromise on the five concerts as scheduled, these same thousands of fans rejected him.

Of course, Brooks is not the first artist to cancel a massive concert at Croke Park. In June 2008, Prince cancelled his date with 55,000 ticketholders at the venue with less than a week to go before the gates opened. But this last minute cancellation saw nothing of the national outrage caused by the Garth Brooks saga in 2014. The criticism levelled at Brooks after the cancellation of his Croke Park concerts amplified the criticism that he had been receiving from those who were not fans of his music in the first place.

From RTÉ Radio 1's Liveline, Joe Duffy takes calls after the news breaks that all Garth Brooks' 2014 Dublin shows had been cancelled

For some, Brooks is a breaker of promises, betrayer of trust and the subject of countless calls to Joe Duffy's Liveline, cementing his position as the Judas of live music in Ireland. For others, he was more than welcome to just say goodnight and show himself to the door.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ