Garth Brooks‘ travels “’round the world in a pickup truck” have brought him to D.C. The country music icon received this year’s Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song on Wednesday night.
The honor “celebrates the work of an artist whose career reflects lifetime achievement in promoting song as a vehicle of musical expression and cultural understanding.” Past recipients include musical legends like Tony Bennett, Smokey Robinson, Billy Joel, Carole King, Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney, just to name a few.
Keith Urban, Chris Stapleton, Brooks’ wife singer Trisha Yearwood, Keb’ Mo’ and more honored Brooks with musical performances during the ceremony hosted by comedian Jay Leno.
The former talk show host was one of the famous faces who praised the ordinary side of the extraordinary talent that is Brooks on the red carpet.
“He’s just a regular guy, and that’s kind of a fun thing,” Leno said of his longtime friend. “He’s just fun to be around and fun to be with, a good sense of humor, doesn’t take himself seriously.”
Writer Margaret George also endorsed Brooks’ normality. “You’re with him, and you think he could be the most conceited person in the world, and he’s not,” she said. “He’s just the most ordinary person next door, neighbor kind of person you feel like you’ve known all your life.”
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Prior to the program airing on March 29 (PBS, 9 p.m. ET), see the standout moments from the show:
Brooks requests moment of silence for Tennessee
The Grammy-winning artist began his acceptance speech by acknowledging the fatal tornadoes that ripped through Tennessee earlier in the week. He said the tragedy had caused “a tugging.”
“The whole band, the crew, all the people that made this happen are living our lives on the phones right now, concerned about the hometown of country music, which is Nashville,” he said. In addition he requested the audience observe a moment of silence for those who died and those who remain unaccounted for.
Yearwood thanks Brooks for teaching ‘Entertaining 101’
The love between Yearwood and Brooks was palpable in the venue, DAR Constitution Hall.
The “Trisha’s Southern Kitchen” host sang a pair of tunes: “For the Last Time,” which she and Brooks co-wrote “for each other,” and then “The Change.”
Brooks remained on his feet for the entirety of the first tune, which proved to be a challenge for Yearwood.
“We should’ve rehearsed me singing that in front of you,” she said, “That was not easy.”
The singer went on to thank her husband, who refers to her as Ms. Yearwood.
“I wasn’t planning to say this but I think it’s important to say, as an artist, my very first tour opening for anybody was getting to open the show for Garth, and he was – in 1991 such a generous spirit to a young girl with one song, kind of on the radio,” she said. “It was really Entertaining 101 on a lot of levels – not only how to sing to an audience but also a lesson in how to treat people, from the very first person in the front row to the person who’s rolling up the cables in the back at night, and I just thank you for that… You showed me how to be.”
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Brooks shouts out wife, daughters
Brooks’ evening was made even more special because he got to spend it with Yearwood and his three girls with ex-wife Sandy Mahl: Taylor, August and Allie.
“Any dad will tell you the greatest gift you can give a dad – especially when your babies get older – is to get them all back in one area for just 30 seconds,” he said. “I’m lucky enough to have the love of my life and the three daughters, which are all the loves of my life up here.”
Brooks went on to say he was “the luckiest man in the world” since he did not have “a stinking boy” in his brood. He complimented Mahl for being “very strong” and described their daughters as “very tough.”
Brooks shared that on his wedding day to Yearwood, his daughters were also included in a vow exchange.
“We’ll celebrate our 15th anniversary this year, coming up,” Brooks said. “It’s cool because just all five of us go, and we eat somewhere and I’m sittin’ at the dinner table looking at these girls, and I’m going, ‘Holy jeez, I’m the weak link in this chain!’ “
“Thank you for making it an award that I will cherish forever,” he said wrapping up his speech, “because we were together.”
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The night ended with a mini-concert from the honoree, during which he sang his hits, as well as songs by other artists including “Piano Man,” “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay” and “Ain’t No Sunshine.” But he did stumble while performing Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home.” Apparently, the pressure got to be too much.
“This is Haggard, and I’m nervous, scared to death. And I just screwed that thing up,” Brooks confessed. “But this is TV, and it’s not live TV.” And with that, he began again.
‘Friends in Low Places’ performance rides high
Throughout his mini-concert, Brooks walked the audience through the process of songwriting.
“When you were just a kid with dreams and no music of your own you’re thinkin’, ‘Is it possible that I could, someday, have this song that everybody knew the words to?’ ” he recalled. “Let’s find out.”
A few strums of the guitar and the crowd began to recognize “Friends in Low Places.” The audience went wild, cheering and clapping, and Brooks’ vocals were complimented by those singing along.
As for his query, when Brooks turned over singing duties to the audience, there wasn’t a word missed of the song.
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