Garth Brooks' New Gig Not Your Old Las Vegas

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LAS VEGAS -- Millions of fans wish they could've seen Garth Brooks where it all started at Willie's Saloon in Stillwater, Okla.

Come to Vegas and you'll get something like it. Forget the glitz, glam and pyrotechnics that typify your average Sin City show. Brooks is going to strip it down and take it back to the beginning.

The man, his guitar and the songs he loves.

"That's how it started in Willie's in '83, playing a show for tips," Brooks told The Associated Press on Thursday after announcing his residency at the Wynn Las Vegas resort's Encore theater. "You do your big arena show, then it's funny. You come back to that and it's come full circle."

Those who have heard the show as Brooks rehearses think it's something special. The country superstar would love to take credit for the idea, but that all goes to casino owner Steve Wynn.

Brooks was ready to blow him away with a full band and the high-energy show everyone came to expect as he transformed country music in the 1990s.

After all, this is Sin City. Cher, for instance, recently started a three-year run at the Caesars Palace Colosseum. The show's packed with costume changes after nearly every number, video montages and a large supporting cast. She alternates with equally flamboyant acts Bette Midler and Elton John.

Celine Dion's act has included Cirque du Soleil-like moments with dozens of dancers and a three-story video screen.

Wynn envisioned something much different, though. He asked Brooks to take a step back and reconsider after watching the entertainer's reconstituted band play the Encore.

"He said, 'I love them, great guys. But not what happened the other night when it was just you,'" Brooks said. "He wanted to do a one-man show in Vegas. He said, 'Yeah, I'm telling you, it's totally opposite from anything we have here.'"

Wynn patiently paved the way for Brooks' return from the retirement he announced in 2000. He wanted to create something with innate cool like the acts that first transformed Las Vegas. Artists like Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack buddies still haunt the scene.

He thinks Brooks might be able to recreate some of that aura.

"When they walked on stage, they sucked the air out of the universe," Wynn said. "There hasn't been anything like that since."

Trisha Yearwood, Brooks' wife, said fans are in for something from Brooks that he usually reserves for small, intimate charity dinners. Even she wasn't familiar with that side of her husband until a few years ago.

"First of all I think he's an amazing singer and to perform acoustically showcases him in a way that he can't do in the big arena," Yearwood said. "I think it's really unique because I think it's a really cool show and I'm excited that people get to see it."

Wynn sealed the deal with a jet that will allow the entertainer maximum time at home with his three teenage daughters - the reason he retired in the first place. Brooks can hop on the plane and play gigs Friday, Saturday and Sunday, then return home in time to take his kids to school like usual Monday mornings.

"Every argument we ever had about why we shouldn't do this, he had an answer to," Brooks said.

Financial terms of the deal weren't disclosed.

"I told him he couldn't afford me," Brooks said. "I was wrong. Wow."

Brooks said in his dressing room behind the Encore stage that fans have seen bits and pieces of what's coming - if they were lucky enough to catch the band working overtime back before he retired from touring in 1998.

"When we'd run out of bullets, when a crowd would outlast us, I'd say, 'Shoot, they're not going home,'" Brooks said. "So I'd drag my guitar out there and we'd play stuff that influenced us."

It's the essence of that great music he's loved Brooks wants to share with fans willing to come to Vegas and see him play in the 1,400-seat theater.

Brooks is almost always upbeat, but his eyes light up when he talks about the music he loves and plans to showcase. He rattled off a dozen names, most from the 1960s and '70s. Greats like Bob Seeger, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Randy Travis, Cat Stevens, Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Tom Rush and "all these real obscure things."

"Being the last of six kids there was no generation gap between my parents and my oldest brother," he said, "so all this music came flying at me."

While looking back at the past, Brooks also has an eye on the future. The 47-year-old has been thinking about what happens in 2014 or 2015 when his daughters are all in college and grown up.

"I really think I'm here because it makes sense for my future," Brooks said.

"This gives me five years to kind of do what Willie's did for me when I was in Stillwater before I went to Nashville. A one-man show. It gives me a chance to kind of find out who I am again at this age in my life."

© 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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