By Shelley Marsden
Eleventh hour negotiations were continuing this week to save US country music superstar Garth Brooks Croke Park concerts this month as many UK-based fans face finding themselves with cancelled gigs and out of pocket for travel and accommodation.
The singer has been a stay-at-home dad for decades and 400,000 people have bought tickets for his return to the site of – in his own words – his best-ever live performance.
Dublin City Council, responding to complaints from local residents, reduced by two the number of shows it is prepared to license.
Brooks responded by saying it was five shows or no show at all and announced, somewhat portentously, that it was in the best interests of the Irish people that the concerts – which will earn the GAA about £500,000 a night – should go ahead.
At the time of going to press a special announcement by the singer – widely thought to be about a world tour and album – due earlier this week has been postponed until Thursday while talks continue in Dublin to find a way to salvage the banned concerts.
Of the 400,000 tickets sold for the Dublin events, Brooks’ first gigs in Ireland for seventeen years, 70,000 were bought by fans booked to travel from outside Ireland.
News of the two cancelled nights (the equivalent of 160,000 tickets)wasfollowed by a defiant response by the Friends In Low Places singer of “I’ll do five shows or no shows” – meaning thousands of fans who had organised holidays and spent hard-earned money on flights and accommodation were left wondering what would happen.
Many are from Britain, like Kilburn-based Claire Myers, 26, whose parents come from Galway. A huge fan of the singer, she, two of her sisters and their friend hope to go to the Saturday concert, and spent almost an hour on phones and online trying to get their tickets for, just one of them managing to get through.
She told the Irish World: “I feel sorry for those who were down for the Monday or Tuesday gigs, but even ours is still up in the air. If it wasn’t to happen we’d be bitterly disappointed – it’s been quite a hassle, booking flights and hotels on top of the tickets. We’d stand to lose around £250 each.
She added: “My sister emailed me at work today and was panicked about what was going to happen. She was back in Mayo for a wedding at the weekend, and said it was the only thing anybody was talking about. I told her I didn’t have a clue, but I hope it’s just a big publicity stunt and it all ends up happy ever after!”
Tourism bosses, worried that the cancelled gigs could damage Ireland’s reputation as a tourist destination, met on Monday to discuss how to get Garth Brooks fans to continue with their trips to Ireland, concert or not, with options proposed including discounts and refunds.
Minister for Tourism Leo Varadkar has asked them to come up with promotions and events over the weekend, possibly with a country and western theme.
Though most fans have booked travel and hotels for the concert alone, others are including it as part of a longer break to the country. The worry of organisations such as Failte Ireland, Tourism Ireland and the Irish Hotels Federation is that fans will cut their losses and cancel both their flights and accommodation.
Last week Peter Aiken of Aiken Promotions, promoter of the Brooks concerts, hadsaid it was possible none of the gigs would happen, following the council’s citation of unacceptable levels of disruption to the local community in their decision to deny permission for the concerts on Monday 28 and Tuesday 29 July.
He said that the shows had increased in size from the two initial concerts to a large-scale, one-off production, and added that as a result, production costs had been scaled accordingly, making it impossible to just cancel two of the five shows.
Over the weekend, it is believed promoters were attempting to salvage the situation by getting Brooks to initially commit to performing on three occasions, then allowing space in the coming days to determine whether future events are possible.
One idea put forward was the fast-tracking of a fresh application to Dublin City Council for two additional concerts to be held at Croke Park, with minor alterations to the dates.Landsdowne Road as an alternative location for the two cancelled concerts has been ruled out.
But while attempts are under way to try and revive the five concerts in a different form, local residents group the Croke Park Streets Committee may be seeking a High Court injunction to try and stop the three gigs approved from goingt ahead. Meanwhile, a separate group of residents living close to the venue held a rally ahead of the Leinster final at the weekend, calling for licenses to be granted for all five concerts, which included a petition signed by 2,000 local residents.
Peter Aiken said on Saturday he “hasn’t given up hope” for the concerts taking place, but told RTÉ Radio 1 at the weekend that Brooks was not the kind of man to back down.
“The whole thing was based around an event which was the five shows. And Garth Brooks is the type of guy that, if he came in and he did three shows, he would feel that it would be such an anti-climax to him for the 160,000 people who didn’t get to see him,” he said.
“The idea of moving to a different venue – it just wouldn’t work because the stuff is custom-made for Croke Park . . . Twelve container-loads have already left America en route here and these are special lights that are going to be put into the Hogan and the Cusack stands.We have a schedule to start on July 12th in Croke Park – that’s how big a build-up this is.”
Roisin, 25, whose parents are from County Monaghan,lives in Harlesden and is flying to Dublin on the Friday to see Brooks with her sister, her brother and his wife, and hopes to make a long weekend of it. She said she’s lucky to be staying with family in Louth and seeing the singer at one of his weekend dates, but is still unhappy about recent events.
“I still spent money on flights and tickets – around £150 – and I had so much bother getting tickets in the first place. If the other three concerts get cancelled too, I’ll still go to Ireland but I’ll be so upset. It’s Dublin City Council’s fault – if they already knew how many dates were used up, they should have said no and never allowed the two extra dates”, she said.
“I feel like we’re in limbo now. Garth Brooks saying ‘five shows or no show’ is really unfair, especially with him saying his heart is with the people of Ireland. Everyone loves him, but if things don’t work out I think this could really dent his reputation, with the Irish in any case.”
She added that his unwavering stance was no surprise, though: “Every interview Brooks gives, he talks about his love for the people, he can be quite sickly! So this is true to character I suppose, he’s sticking to his guns.”
Dublin City Council had said in a statement that the reason for scaling back the number of concerts from five to three was in order to not set a precedent for ever-larger concert runs at the famous stadium which serves as the GAA’s headquarters. It added that several of the proposed Brooks concerts were due to happen on week nights.
But last Thursday, Brooks said if he wasn’t permitted to do all five shows then there’d be none: “I have faith that Dublin City Council will make the best decision for the people of Ireland. For us, it is five shows or none at all. To choose which shows to do and which shows not to do, would be like asking to choose one child over another.”
Many British fans took to Twitter and Facebook to vent their frustrations, while others exploited the news to come up with humorous quips, such as @DecMurphy1c who tweeted: ‘So two Garth brooks concerts cancelled, bad news for the denim industry in Ireland’.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny – who stands to miss out with tickets for one of the cancelled shows – said things had not been handled well, and expressed his hope that something could be done about the two cancelled dates. “I understand it is to do with a planning issue and the council made its decision here. I hope everyone can work out a consequence to that.”
The Dublin Business and Cultural Community has said that Dublin City Council’s decision was ‘undemocratic’, that businesses stood to lose out on millions and the country’s reputation on an international scale has been damaged as a result.