What You Can Learn From a Garth Brooks Concert

by Andy Wood on June 15, 2015

in Executing Your Plan, Five LV Laws, Leadership, Life Currency, LV Cycle, Principle of Increase, Turning Points

Garth Brooks

Count me in.  I now know what all the fuss is about.

Went to hear Garth Brooks in concert over the weekend in Birmingham, Alabama.  Definitely a step outside of my routine, but anybody with experience I talked to about the upcoming event told me, “It’s one of the best, if not THE best, concert experiences you will ever experience.”

Yeah, that.

Six of us took a road trip with center-section, row 9 seats.  Close enough to see the sweat and be covered when the confetti dropped.  And as-advertised, it was an extraordinary experience.  In part I felt like an outsider looking in because I didn’t know every word of every song like most of the crowd apparently did.  But on this night it didn’t matter. I was part of something bigger than myself, regardless of my lack of experience.  Garth and his team saw to that.

Now before you “Older Brother” types write me off and resume your search for friends in HIGH places, hang with me.  I’ve had some time to think about what we saw and heard that night. I’ve looked at it through several different lenses.  A leadership lens.  An organization lens. Even a Church World lens. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned that can speak to your world, too.

1. Create an environment where everybody belongs.

The first thing you see at the venue is that this place is no respecter of persons.  Old and young, rich and poor, country and urban, people came from every walk of life – and dressed the part.  People were patient with the long lines and the jammed traffic because at least for this one night, everybody had something in common and everybody belongs.

Granted, this was a single event.  But what if every church, every boss, every business treated everybody who walked in the door as if they had a paid membership to “the club,” whatever “the club” is? What if nobody was treated as if they were out of place or unwanted?

2. Leverage the reasons people showed up in the first place.

“Rule number one for concerts,” the singer announced three songs in, “is that we do the old stuff.  Yes, we have a new album and we’ll do a couple of songs off of it, but concerts are for the old songs!” he said to the roar of the crowd.

Why does he do that?  Because that’s what people paid their money to hear.  They wanted to be able to sing along and have fun with what made them fans in the first place.

Now… if the event had been publicized differently – something like “Garth Brooks sings the new stuff!” then people’s expectations would have adjusted.  Maybe some of them wouldn’t have even come (doubtful).  But part of the genius of Team Garth is that they have their finger on the pulse of why people are there.

Oh… oh… if every store manager had a clue why people walked in the door, or if every pastor really knew what brought people to the church house!  Of course, that doesn’t mean that your leadership or organization is only about pleasing people.  But at least wise enough to find ways to leverage that.  Which leads to…

3. Give people more than they expect.

My what a production.  Make no mistake about it, this was a show, and there was something for everybody.

Was all that necessary?  The 40-ton overhead light and sound configuration?  The rising platforms? The dazzling light show that seemed to accompany most every song?

No.  Brooks and crew could have stood on a simple stage with no lights and still delivered quality music. They have the talent to pull that off.

But this was special. It was Garth in person. It was the opportunity to make a memory. So he made the event memorable.

Around here and in New Orleans they use the lagniappe principle.  Give what’s expected, then a little more.

4. Invite people to “enter in” and “join” you.

I’ve been to plenty of concerts where appreciative audiences were entertained (or, ahem, blessed) by what they heard in terms of quality.  But there was a bit of a disconnect between the “performers” and the “listeners.”  There was an invisible barrier… I sing, you listen. I do well, you just relax and enjoy it.

This was totally different.  I’m totally convinced that Brooks measures the success of the event by how many people actually sing along.  He wanted them singing with him… all plenty-thousand of them.

Now, not every organization stages concerts. Not every leader is a crowd-master.  But we all deal with hidden barriers between “them” and “us.”  Maybe it’s bosses and employees.  Maybe it’s pastor and people.  Maybe it’s expert and novice.  If you want to keep people coming back, get rid of as much of that barrier as you can.

5. Treat your “audience” as if they’re the only one that matters.

Forget that this was the guy who scheduled one show in Chicago last fall and 45 minutes into ticket sales had a waiting list of 380,000. (He wound up doing 10 or 11 shows just in Chicago.)  Forget that this guy has sold more records than you and I have had heartbeats. Forget that he’s toured the world multiple times to the cheers of audiences everywhere.  On this night every time the fans lit it up for him, he acted as if nobody, ever, had given him such adoration.  He acted amazed, and told us repeatedly how much energy (translation: encouragement) he draws from that.

Now… did most all of us know better?  Sure.  But we cheered all the same because for Team Brooks the only audience on the planet that mattered was the one in Birmingham Alabama.

Wherever you are… as a leader, as an organization, as an event or as a set of ongoing relationships… be there. Don’t act like or pretend like you were somewhere else. And please don’t act like you wish you were somewhere else.

6. Go deep with your team.

Let me tell you about the guy they call “the rookie.”  He’s the fiddle player, Jimmy Mattingly.  He’s the newest member of the band… and he’s been with them for 20 years.  Everybody else has been together with Brooks for anywhere from 22 to 27 years.

Wow.  I wonder if they ever have disagreements.  I wonder if they ever have distractions.  I wonder if the grass doesn’t sometimes look greener elsewhere.  Yes, yes, and yes.  These are all professional musicians, and they do play for other people, too.  But when the lights go down and the stage comes up in Birmingham, it’s all hands on deck and it’s a team operation.

Part of that, of course, is finding the right people to start with.  The other is breeding deep loyalty in those people in a way that they keep making what you do better and better.

7. Do what you do with a shameless commitment to excellence.

Garth Brooks has always publicly celebrated his early country music influences. But he’s also been his own man, and seems committed to blazing his own trail.  He rewrote many of the old rules about country music and what it could do to entertain people.  But regardless of whether it was as an innovator, a showman, a musician, or a team builder, what I saw was a commitment to complete excellence.  And of course, behind the scenes, that always starts with, “How can we make this better?”  He seems to have his own standards of excellence, regardless of how others keep score.

8. Lavish gratitude in as many ways as possible.

We were close enough to Nashville that many of his long-time studio musicians came down to hear him.  He introduced us to them all.  He also introduced and honored the lady whom he first met when he came to Nashville, who helped him get started when he didn’t know anybody. She was there, in a special place of honor.

He thanked the band.

He thanked the production team.

He thanked the audience again and again and again.

He did encores about five times… continuously saying thank you.

Those two words, spoken with any semblance of sincerity, are contagious.  Heck, I found myself thanking the Civic Center cleanup crew and the sound control guys in the back as I left.  Gratitude breeds gratitude.  And respect.

Imagine what could happen if, even when you had a frustrating day, you communicated gratitude.  Imagine if the people who were closest to you actually heard “thank you” more than complete strangers did.  Imagine what would happen if people felt important and valued because you treated them as blessings, not as someone or something you’re entitled to.

The Leader of the Band and Singalong on Saturday night knew an important secret – in the end, we didn’t owe him anything.  But he, the leader, owed us everything.  And he showed it.  We went home with the smiles, and yeah, he went home with the money.  But I think we all were pretty happy with the outcome.

Marta June 15, 2015 at 8:38 pm

I love your analysis! It is so logical.
I have been a Garth fan since the beginning so I am always happy when someone “gets” him. Your article describes the attributes/actions of any person who wants to experience that human connection we all crave. Thank you, it was a pleasure to read this article.

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