Storytelling Can Win New Fans

Garth Brooks has come out of retirement. I caught his WYNN Las Vegas TV special last Friday night.

Growing up, I knew who Garth Brooks was. I was a teenager in the 1990s, after all. Kids were singing “I’ve Got Friends in Low Places” on the bus. But I don’t own any albums, and I can’t claim to be a hardcore, longtime fan. I don’t make a habit of blogging or tweeting my viewing habits. The style of this show stuck with me, though, so I wanted to blog about it. It was different from the typical televised concert.

The typical concert format is a well-styled singer singing, dancing, video accompaniment, elaborate lighting effects, maybe pyrotechnics. You the audience member are singing (or mouthing) along to songs you know and love. If you are not a fan, you pass. You won’t pay $30+ to see someone you don’t know. You don’t spend $30+ to spend a couple hours in a room with someone you don’t know and a stadium full of their adoring fans either. If you are watching at home, you would keep channel surfing past this stranger and their fan base. Why? No one pays with their money, or their time, to feel excluded.

In contrast, this is how Brooks’ show was formatted:

Imagine a white American man is onstage, dressed in very average clothes: Timberland steel toe work boots, a black hoodie sweatshirt, black baseball cap, and blue jeans. The baseball cap has a logo on it. There is no band. He is playing an acoustic/electric guitar and wearing a microphone headset over his ball cap.

For every song he plays, he is telling stories. Most of the songs he plays are covers that relate to the story he just told. The stories run the gamut of his 51 years: his parents’ musical tastes; growing up in the 1960s and 1970s; being the youngest of six; riding in older cars that never sold (no matter how much time and effort was made fixing them up); poking fun at himself; poking fun at lyrical trends of the 1960s and 1970s; learning a lot about performing while paying his dues in a small club in Stillwater, Okla.; and finally, the daunting task of covering a song for a movie soundtrack when you can’t understand the original artist’s version.

If you know nothing about Brooks and didn’t care prior to this show, he’s provided eight reasons to care now. Maybe one or more of these themes resonated with you.

At this point, he is introduced by his wife, Trisha Yearwood. She brings out that famous black cowboy hat. He dons it. He ends the show with a couple of his own hits.It’s Garth Brooks.

You were willing to give his music a chance at this point, weren’t you? You could hear how his influences came through? Following this show, even if you still don’t like his music, you can still relate to him as a person.

Once people feel some rapport with a performer or a speaker, they are more apt to listen to what they have to say.

Quite often, there’s a pressure for the performer or speaker to focus on nailing each performance one day at a time. He or she may just want to get through it and not screw up. He/she may want to blow people away. He or she may want to create post-show buzz. He or she may want all of the above.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with “rocking it”, so to speak. I think the internet age has really bombarded ordinary people with an endless supply of footage of people rocking it. We already had television. And social media involves a lot “rocking it” announcements by both famous and everyday people, every day of the week.

Rocking it proves the performer is highly skilled.  If all you ever see of someone is the “rocking it” footage, what does that do for you long term? Do you get inspired? Do you get bored? Do you feel intimidated or inadequate after awhile?

Contrast those feelings with someone who shared their stories and related to you as another human being before rocking it. How do you feel about that person?

These are the things I am thinking about three days after seeing Brooks’ show.

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