You couldn’t blame any of the 42,000 fans for pinching themselves Friday night.
Was that actual live music cranking on the Boise State Broncos’ football field, where no major concert had ever been allowed?
Was that truly Garth Brooks, the country superstar who hadn’t performed in Boise for 27 years?
And whaaa — hold on! What were these mysterious, 16-ounce cans being sipped by blissful Boiseans in the normally alcohol-free bleachers of Albertsons Stadium?
Take another gulp of that $10 beer and slap yourself, cowboy. This was real.
It also was unreal (that Coors Light tallboy price, right?) and surreal — in a super-fun, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-Wranglers way.
Playing the first of two consecutive nights at the stadium, Brooks stampeded the stage dressed like a ranch hand (cowboy hat, jeans) and outfitted like a pop diva (headset microphone).
He began at 9:15, later than scheduled, which gave concertgoers additional time to find their seats. The historic crowd was the largest ever at Albertsons Stadium, topping 36,864 at a BSU-BYU football game in 2012. Lines were long and slothlike, but at least there were two opening acts: The Crew Band (Brooks’ road crew) and Granger Smith.
By the time Brooks and his 10-member backing posse hit the stage and launched into the singalong stomper “All Day Long,” fans were bursting at the seams with anticipation.
But shortly after the party started, it abruptly ended — during the third song.
Brooks’ gigantic light-and-sound rig, which resembled an alien spaceship, let out an ear-splitting pop during “Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House.”
Then the stage went nearly silent.
Oblivious to the sound-system problem, Brooks kept singing. His band kept jamming. The bemused audience tried to help by shrieking along loudly. But soon, Brooks was forced to stop the show and exit the stage.
For several minutes, the noise of a helicopter was the only thing that filled the stadium as a film crew circled above. (Well, that and the sound of an antsy crowd.) When the audio glitch finally was repaired, the 10-minute delay had transformed the tone of the evening.
Strangely, in a positive way.
Brooks reappeared even more fired up than he had been, pointing fingers and pumping up fans.
“You guys are fantastic!” he told the audience.
The night evolved into something greater than a meticulously rehearsed stadium show, where between-song banter is virtually the same in every city.
“We’re gonna be here all frickin’ night now!” Brooks proclaimed, yanking off his cowboy hat. “I say let’s have a night we’ll never forget!”
Singing with a voice that’s still rich and spot-on, Brooks, 57, uncorked hit after hit with his crack band: “The Beaches of Cheyenne,” “Two Pina Coladas” and “The Thunder Rolls,” complete with a gut-rattling thunderclap effect, just to prove that the speakers were 100-percent fixed. Even in the highest bleacher seats, fans stood and waved their arms joyfully to the Nitty Gritty Dirty Band’s “Fishin’ in the Dark.”
When NBC’s “The Voice” star Blake Shelton suddenly appeared on stage, nobody was surprised. It had been revealed in advance that a one-song duet would be filmed and recorded.
And so the entertaining imperfections continued. After Brooks taught the crowd the chorus to “Dive Bar,” his new single with Shelton, the men launched into the tune and paraded around the stage.
Afterward, Brooks put a hand to his earpiece and was informed they needed to do the song over.
“Are you telling me I sucked?” Shelton joked.
So Brooks rehearsed with the audience one more time. He, Shelton and the entire stadium repeated their performance.
But not before Shelton also shared a passionate, solo-acoustic version of his No. 1 hit, “God’s Country,” showcasing his booming voice.
After the “Dive Bar” detour, Brooks pounced again. Throwing his head back, eyes closed, arms held wide to the sky, he basked in New Grass Revival’s (and the Oak Ridge Boys’) “Callin’ Baton Rouge,” Billy Joel’s “Shameless” — and “The Dance,” from Brooks’ 1989 self-titled debut album. Confetti-shooting BSU cheerleaders joined Brooks during his signature tune, “Friends in Low Places,” rocking the stadium.
Brooks got intimate during a four-song solo-acoustic segment. It included “Mom,” which he dedicated to a fan whose mother had died recently. But it was getting late. Soon, he ended the show with a raging “Standing Outside the Fire.”
His electrifying, happily unpredictable set had lasted just over two hours.
“Tell me it’s like this all the time here!” he exclaimed at one point, beaming at the Albertsons Stadium crowd.
Sorry, no can do. But this night should help change that — right, BSU?
And not to be a spoiler, but even with a tweaked setlist, Saturday can’t possibly be quite as memorable. This stadium adventure certainly wasn’t Brooks’ first “Rodeo,” but things he couldn’t control are what made Friday extra-special.
The man was so spent that the front of his shirt was hanging over his belt buckle at the end.
“How this concert started,” Brooks told the delighted fans, “it could have gone dreadfully wrong. And because of you, it turned out a ****ing great night!”