Julie O'Neill: Welcome back to Cincinnati, Garth Brooks

Posted at 5:00 AM, Jan 20, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-20 07:35:27-05

9 On Your Side Weekend Anchor Julie O’Neill shares why she can’t wait to welcome country singer Garth Brooks back to Cincinnati for his five-concert stretch at U.S. Bank Arena.

So much anticipation -- it’s almost here!

This weekend, I’ll be standing in U.S. Bank Arena, watching Garth Brooks with 18,000 of my closest friends and singing along to every word of "Friends in Low Places."

That song might be at the heart of why Brooks is still drawing us fans in with the same enthusiasm he did more than 20 years ago at then-Riverfront Coliseum. Maybe it’s because each of us feels a sudden inexplicable surge of strength and confidence when we hear those first few plucks of the guitar at the start of the tune.

Julie O'Neill listens to country star Garth Brooks at a news conference at Riverfront Stadium in November 1996. (WCPO)

At his 1996 Cincinnati news conference, which I covered for 9 On Your Side, Brooks said that the beginning notes of "Friends in Low Places" are the only solo guitar notes he plays during his concerts. If you’ve been to one of his shows, you know that soft A-E-A-C# progression sends the arena into a frenzy.

Brooks is an artist before he’s a singer -- and he knows it. His favorite songs, and ours, are those that tell stories that resonate deeply with all of us.

9 On Your Side weekend anchor Julie O'Neill took her children to see Garth Brooks in Knoxville in 2015. (Julie O'Neill / WCPO)

Twenty years ago we held lighters in the air as he sang "Unanswered Prayers." Now we’re holding up iPhones. But what we hold inside when we hear that song -- a hope that everything will be OK -- hasn’t changed.

"Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers

Remember when you're talkin' to the man upstairs

That just because he doesn't answer doesn't mean he don't care

Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers"

We all remember a time that we felt the devastation of rejection, only to eventually learn that whatever caused that pain was ultimately for the best.

"That Summer," another of my favorites, is pure poetry about rites of passage and small but profound moments in time.

"Till she came to me one evening

Hot cup of coffee and a smile

In a dress that I was certain

She hadn't worn in quite a while

There was a difference in her laughter

There was a softness in her eyes

And on the air there was a hunger

Even a boy could recognize"

I like "Shameless" because for a moment it lets us be, well, shameless when it comes to loving with abandon.

"You see in all my life I've never found

What I couldn't resist, what I couldn't turn down

I could walk away from anyone I ever knew

But I can't walk away from you"

"The Dance," which Brooks has said is his favorite, allows us to reflect on an old love story that didn’t end well but we don’t have to regret.

"And now I'm glad I didn't know

The way it all would end, the way it all would go

Our lives are better left to chance

I could have missed the pain

But I'd have had to miss the dance"

I can’t help but believe that Brooks thinks about his first wife when he sings that song. That’s another reason we like him: He’s humble about his mistakes, his failings and his losses. That said, it feels so good to see him touring with his second wife, the great Trisha Yearwood, whom he shows the love, respect and affection we all want. And here’s a plug for her, too: What a tremendous voice! How lucky is Brooks to tour with her?

I’ve called "dibs" here at 9 On Your Side on covering Brooks' news conference at U.S. Bank Arena on Saturday. At his last news conference in Cincinnati, in November 1996, I got to talk directly to Brooks in a room full of dozens of reporters and photographers.

After he explained how he bans video cameras from his concerts because he doesn’t like the way he sounds on TV, I asked if he would sing a bit. Everyone laughed, and Brooks said, "No way," with a wide smile and chuckle. Later during the news conference, he accidentally began singing as he spoke about one of his songs, and everyone looked at me to gauge my reaction.

Brooks turned to me with another smile and asked, "Are you happy now?"

I was then, and I am today -- I’m going to see Garth again!

Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood

When: 7 p.m. Jan. 20-21 and Jan. 27-29.

Where: U.S. Bank Arena, 100 Broadway, Downtown.

Tickets: $68.54