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CMU Beef Of The Week #214: Ireland v Garth Brooks

By | Published on Friday 11 July 2014

Garth Brooks

Strap in, beef fans, this one gets real complicated real quickly. It involves Garth Brooks, the American country music star best known for swinging on a rope in the 90s.

Brooks has scheduled some shows in Dublin for later this month. Not small shows mind, he has the 80,000 capacity Croke Park stadium booked. “80,000 people”, you might splutter. “That’s a lot more people than I thought Garth Brooks would be able to attract in Ireland”.

Yeah, well prepare to have your mind blown. He actually announced two dates at the venue last year. What’s more, those first two dates both sold out, so he added another, which also sold out. Then he added two more, which (yeah, you guessed it) also sold out. Pretty good going, huh? Except there was a catch. Croke Park is only licensed to hold three concerts per year.

Following a petition by locals and various concerns expressed by officials over the strain on local resources five shows would cause, Dublin City Council last week refused to licence two of planned concerts, telling Brooks he’d just have to stick with three. “It’s five shows or none at all”, said Brooks in response, adding a little melodramatically and certainly inaccurately: “To choose which shows to do and which shows not to do would be like asking to choose one child over another”.

For a time hopes were high that it would all be worked out somehow, but then on Tuesday this week the company organising the shows issued a statement saying: “No concerts will take place. Aiken Promotions have exhausted all avenues regarding the staging of this event”.

Then all hell broke loose. Well, there was rather a lot of debate, anyway. Because you don’t just cancel some shows you’ve sold over 400,000 tickets for and walk away. Estimates came in that Dublin stood to lose up to €15 million by the gigs being axed and the city’s Lord Mayor Christy Burke called crisis talks, followed later in the week by a plea from Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny for further discussions between all interested parties.

Debate raged in the media, with politicians called upon to comment unable to agree if this was an embarrassment to Ireland or a gross display of “petulance and arrogance” (as Junior Trade Minister Joe Costello put it) on the part of Brooks. That’s Garth Brooks, the man who compared his live shows to his offspring.

But then came the next twist. On Wednesday this week Brooks wrote to Aiken Promotions founder Peter Aiken, and pleaded for a resolution to be found: “I was informed yesterday that the shows were cancelled and the refunds will begin on Monday”, he began. “I cannot begin to tell you how badly my heart is breaking right now. I hope you understand that to play for 400,000 people would be a dream, but to tell 160,000 of those people that they are not welcome would be a nightmare”.

He continued: “To do what the city manager suggests (play three shows and not all five) means I agree that is how people should be treated and I just can’t agree with that. Our guys are still en route and if there is any chance that the five planned concerts can be salvaged and nobody is being let down then we can proceed as planned until the refunds begin”.

Finally, he wrote: “If you tell me, ‘Garth, thanks but it is over’, I will cease my efforts and bring our people and gear back to the States. If you think for any reason that the ‘powers that be’ in Ireland can fix this, then I will faithfully go to the last second”.

Of course, that Brooks still had his kit and people Ireland bound at this point suggests that at least some of the people behind the scenes reckoned that all five shows could still go ahead. Could Aiken’s dramatic cancellation announcement (with a five day delay before ticket refunding begins) have been another negotiating tactic, just to confirm that Brooks’ “petulant and arrogant” all or nothing ultimatum was for real?

Though questions have also been asked about the campaign being run by those who want Dublin officials to stand their ground on the ‘three gigs only’ rule. Plenty of locals have signed a petition or written in their objections about the five-show-plan, though that deluge of public outrage is now apparently the subject of a police investigation, after it was claimed that some of the petitions and letters of complaint were fraudulent.

“Two weeks ago I received a letter which had my address on it, but the name of a woman down the road”, explained Yvonne Bryan to the Irish Independent. “I passed it down to her because I thought it was hers. And she said she never made any submission [about the Brooks gigs] either. She rang Dublin City Council to tell them that she never made a complaint. And detectives arrived last Monday to see if I wanted to sign a statement”.

Then this morning it emerged that a local man who attempted to get a High Court injunction to stop the shows was given €15,000 to fund his case by mystery individuals who “wanted to take the [Gaelic Athletic Association] down” – it being the owner of Croke Park.

It’s all a big fat mess, I think we can all agree. And one that’s still no closer to resolution. Yesterday Aiken rejected Dublin City Council’s latest proposal to put on two matinee shows to take the total gig count up to five, saying that the plan “is not feasible”.

The latest development is that the Mexican ambassador in Ireland has offered to mediate talks. Just read that sentence back again. And again. And now as part of a direct quote.

“The Mexican ambassador contacted me yesterday and he offered his services at a diplomatic level if he could be any help”, Christy Burke told Irish broadcaster RTE. “I [also] had a group of residents from Ballybough who said they intend to call Barack Obama to try to encourage Garth Brooks to play in Dublin”.

Who would have thought some Garth Brooks shows could become an international political situation? They’d better be good if he does actually play them. I mean, he’ll need the biggest rope swing Ireland’s ever seen.