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Tuesday 3 October 2023 Dublin: 14°C
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Should we believe Garth's 'aw shucks' schtick? We asked the PR experts...
Brooks says he never saw the problems coming… But there’s been opposition to the gigs for months.

A QUARTER-CENTURY veteran of the music industry — Garth Brooks has an estimated net worth of $150 million, and has shifted some 128 million solo albums.

But for someone who otherwise appeared impressively on top of his brief in terms of managing his business and his brand at Thursday’s much-anticipated Nashville press conference, the 52-year-old singer displayed a curiously vague understanding of the controversy surrounding his planned Dublin concerts.

Despite, for instance, in-depth knowledge of problems with ticket sales in Limerick — Brooks’ awareness of the long-running controversy surrounding residents’ opposition to his Croke Park gigs was surprisingly simplistic.

A sample quote:

Ireland – I don’t have a clue…

…We’ve passed every one of the safety tests – up until two weeks ago there was nothing but love.

And then there came, ‘hey Garth, we’re okay with three of them’… I wish I could tell you I saw it coming, I never did.

The consistent line from the Brooks camp — both from the singer himself and his spokespeople — has been that Garth’s not willing to play any fewer than five gigs in Croke Park, and that the concerts can’t be shifted anywhere else.

The statements

With the exception of the live-streamed press conference, communication from the star himself has been limited since Dublin City Council’s initial ‘three not five’ decision…

There was, of course, the infamous statement where he said playing any fewer than five nights would be like “asking to choose one child or another”.

Then, earlier this week, we had the follow-up ‘when my ship comes in’ letter — when the singer sent an email to promoter Peter Aiken imploring him and the “powers that be” in Ireland to try and fix the situation before the concert equipment landed in Europe.

So what are we to make of the star’s media strategy since the debacle surrounding the apparently ill-fated gigs took over our front pages and social media streams a week-and-a-half ago?

Do we take his and Aiken’s approach at face value — or is there more going on under that stetson than we’re being led to believe?

We put the issues to the experts…

Mark Humphrey Mark Humphrey

The man himself…

“His performance at the press conference was was strong in that there was the right sort of dramatic pause,” says Neil O’Gorman of Pembroke Communications — a ‘full-service’ PR agency based in Dublin.

He knew exactly what he was going to say, even though he wanted to give the impression it was off-the-cuff.

O’Gorman, who has worked for range of brands and firms over the last 15-years, says the singer appears to be “feeding a definite narrative from his point of view”.

He wants to clarify his position that he’s nothing but a champion of his fans… He’s played that card quite well.

“He’s made it very clear that in his own mind he wants to make sure all his fans are happy.”

That said, O’Gorman observes, the last ten days’ events have revealed there’s “multiple agendas at play”.

The whole thing has been very, very messy since the start. It’s ebbed and flowed and obviously there are huge business considerations.

Thursday’s developments were very interesting, he says (this, you’ll recall was the news cycle that began with talk of the White House getting involved, continued with Brooks’ press conference, and ended with Aiken dismissing the council’s matinee compromise).

“The day started off with the impression that people were all set for this to resolve itself… [But] Garth didn’t do the campaign here any favours with his press conference.

“It’s very hard to know now what happens next.

“The media seem to be running out of patience with it… It had seemed on Thursday that there were too many forces aligning here for this not to go ahead.

“That seems now not to be the case — and I’m not sure there’s much else that can happen.

It looks like it’s going to be series of gigs consigned to history.

Mark Stedman / Photocall Ireland Mark Stedman / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

The ‘logistics’ line

Peter Aiken has consistently said in interviews that the set-up for the show has been specifically designed for Croke Park, and that the ‘comeback event’ is designed to be played out over five nights.

Can we take his position at face value?

According to a Dublin-based music publicist: “Absolutely you can.”

“Even on a smaller scale its a headache from a production point of view to cut back from five nights to three.

“Speaking from experience, if a band is playing Whelan’s and it’s sold out out and has to be moved to a bigger venue it’s a major thing.

“I’ve been talking about this to musicians in the last few days… It would be a nightmare to rearrange that and re-organise that crew.

“He isn’t doing a world tour, he isn’t going somewhere else, so it really would be an issue.

“They would have put in a production budget for the overall event, so it’s a huge, huge headache.

There’s “huge sympathy” for Aiken across the Irish music industry, the publicist says.

“They’re great to deal with, they’re really well regarded and they put on great shows.

“All they’ve done is stick to the facts and put their factual press releases.

“The question is — how was it allowed to get this far? Why didn’t Dublin City Council speak up earlier in the process? They must have known there’d be problems.

“It’s down to the licensing. Dublin City Council and the GAA allowed Aiken to sell 400,000 tickets, and literally two weeks before it was going to go ahead they literally said ‘you can have three’.

“It’s the system that’s at fault.”

Mark Stedman Mark Stedman

The elusive truth

So with so many developments over the past week, and so many voices in the debate — is there any way to even guess at what’s going on behind the scenes?

In the short-term, no, not really — that’s PR consultant Simon Palmer‘s assessment of the current state-of-affairs.

Of the various communications from Aiken and the Brooks camp “this is all orchestrated” he says.

None of this is off the cuff.

The ‘when my ship gets here’ statement — presented to the media as being a private email, which the singer later said could be released publicly — would have been pored over by a number of people and the wording carefully considered, Palmer says.

“It’s all to try and twist people’s impression of what’s going on.”

The PR specialist says developments closer to home have been particularly interesting in recent weeks — and points to apparently fluctuating points-of-view coming from the residents.

“What often happens in planning situations is you start your own group in support of a project in the area,” says Palmer, who has a background in planning. 

“I’m not accusing anyone of anything here. But I think it’s no surprise that suddenly when their back is against the wall, suddenly there’s word from the ‘pro’ residents.

“It’s a very awkward situation,” he says, noting that the whole situation has played out with “the usual farce”.

“But you have to look behind the scenes,” at the motivations of each public statement, he says.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Read: Council offers matinees for Garth Brooks gigs, but Aiken says it “will not be feasible”

Read: Brooks will ‘crawl, swim, fly’ to meet Taoiseach over Croke Park gigs

Read: Now Enda is trying to get the Garth Brooks concerts back

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