Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How Vegas reeled in Garth Brooks - Resort billionaire's offer mindful of star's family time

Tribune Newspapers
October 21, 2009

LAS VEGAS -- When Garth Brooks retired in 2001, it wasn't that he had grown immune to the rush of thousands of fans cheering him on in concert or that he'd run out of songs he relished singing. It was just that, after the collapse of his marriage, he'd promised his daughters -- who were 4, 6 and 8 at the time -- to make his family his top priority until all three went off to college.

That simply wasn't compatible with a busy touring schedule.

Now, Brooks is undertaking a Las Vegas residency at billionaire Steve Wynn's resort, but the performer said last week that nothing's changed; family still comes first. In fact, it was Wynn's willingness to structure a deal that would enable him to keep his promise that lured the star back to the stage for a series of intimate, solo acoustic performances that will begin Dec. 11 at Wynn's 1,500-seat Encore Theater.

"This is actually a great opportunity that has lots of rewards to it, and one of them is the money," Brooks said last week during an afternoon interview in his backstage dressing room at the Wynn.

"Everybody else thought money was the answer," he continued. "This guy came to me not with 'How much money is it going to take for this to happen?' but 'What are the logistics that it's going to take to make it happen?' "

Those logistics involved Wynn purchasing a private plane that will ferry Brooks from his home in Oklahoma to Las Vegas for a series of weekend performances. He'll play one show Friday night, two on Saturday and one more Sunday, a schedule that allows him to take his girls to and from school every day.

At a news conference last week, Wynn refused to comment on how much the Brooks deal was going to cost him, saying only "If I were to tell you that, I'd probably lose my job with the stockholders."

Of course, he stands to make a considerable amount as well; the deal is open-ended, meaning that Brooks' run could go for up to five years, and tickets to the first set of performances, which go on sale Saturday, are selling for $125 each.

Brooks said dates are being announced essentially one quarter at a time so that he can schedule them around his daughters' school and extracurricular activities.

Before consenting to the deal, the singer said he sat down with wife Trisha Yearwood and the girls to discuss his going back to work.

"I said 'Guys, here's the opportunity that's come up, here's where we're at.' And when I explained it to them, all they did was look at each other," Brooks said. "Then (Brooks' eldest child) Taylor said, 'Can we go?' I said 'Yep,' and they were in."

If everything works out, Brooks plans to keep playing for Wynn for the next five years, until Allie, his 13-year-old, is old enough to head off to college.

"I really think nothing's going to change," said Yearwood, who accompanied him to the news conference, "except that we're going to get to come to Vegas once a month, and how cool is that?"

In addition to the jet, Wynn offered Brooks a fail-safe escape clause -- he's free to walk away at any point. "If it doesn't work, we'll quit doing it," Brooks said. "We'll just give it a shot and see."

There is one facet of the deal that clearly still gnaws at Brooks, however: the $125 ticket price tag for the concerts. Brooks historically kept prices on his tours to $25 or less -- he noted that, prior to the Wynn deal, the most expensive ticket to one of his concerts was $45. That was the cost to attend the five shows he played last year at Staples Center to benefit firefighters and victims of the Southern California wildfires that had raged the previous fall.

"But it's a 1,500-seat theater," he added, "and my only response is, if you don't like Vegas, or you think the ticket price is too high, stay at home. Because we're still on the same plan: that when the children go to school, I'd like to fire the machine up again and tour. So stay at home and I'll come to your place for a lot less money and hopefully everything will be good then."

For those who do decide to make the trip to Vegas, he said, "My job is for them to walk out of here going 'Dude, that was worth it.' "

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