Remember When: Garth Brooks Brings Country Music to New York City with Historic Central Park Concert

When country star Garth Brooks announced his second world tour in 1996, he had something special in mind for his stop in New York City. The majority of his U.S. performances dates were booked at arenas or coliseums, but fans in attendance at his August 7, 1997 concert experienced something truly unique.

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The Plan

Brooks made headlines when he announced a free concert inside New York City’s Central Park, which would be filmed and televised live on HBO. Fans playfully nicknamed the event “Garthstock,” as an homage to the influential Woodstock Music and Art Fair of 1969. Much like the original Woodstock, organizers underestimated the number of music fans determined to be a part of Brooks’ unconventional concert.

Although the exact number of attendees is still debated by many, the New York Fire Department estimated that just under a million people were on hand for the event. Fans from across the globe traveled to the 843-acre park to see Brooks, who was gearing up to release his seventh studio album, aptly titled Sevens.

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A custom stage was temporarily built on the park grounds, designed especially for Brooks’ performance. According to Entertainment Tonight, the platform was one of the largest and intricately detailed stage setups ever created at the time. Multiple screens and a total of twenty-four cameras were added to capture the concert in detail for fans in attendance and those watching at home.

The Performance

All of the detailed planning paid off for Brooks, who dazzled fans with his high-energy performance. The seasoned entertainer rolled through many of his most beloved career hits, including “The Dance,” “Rodeo,” and “Papa Loved Mama.” 

The country talent also recruited two special guests to join him on stage for the occasion. Billy Joel joined Brooks for a rendition of “Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)” along with his own trademark anthem, “New York State of Mind,” and 1980 hit “You May Be Right.” 

Singer/songwriter Don McLean, whom Brooks has repeatedly cited as an early musical influence, arrived for a collaborative rendition of his classic 1971 single “American Pie.” 

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The record-breaking performance drew over 14 million viewers to its live broadcast on HBO. Garth: Live from Central Park was later released for purchase on VHS due to popular demand from fans. 

The Legacy

In 2022, Brooks celebrated the 25th anniversary of his Central Park concert with a special live-stream event. As viewers were shown segments of the memorable set, the country star reflected on the lasting impact that performance left on him and his fans.

“Time is a friend to all things good, and the Central Park concert will forever remain a GREAT chapter in our story,” he shared in a statement.

Although Garth Brooks’ live sets have evolved and expanded from the one he held on that warm summer day in 1997, his Central Park concert still marks a pivotal point in his long and fruitful career.

Photo by Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images

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