Garth Brooks seeks friends in high Irish places

DUBLIN — Joan Burton faced her first question time in parliament as Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Thursday. The first agenda item? The cancelation of five Dublin concerts by country singer Garth Brooks, who was due to outdraw shows four years ago by local heroes U2.

About 400,000 people, equaling about one in 10 of the entire country’s population, had bought tickets. But city authorities refused permission for two of the shows due to objections from residents living near the venue.

Brooks, who has sold more than 123 million albums during his career, then scrapped the remaining three concerts, saying “for us, it’s five shows or none.” That triggered the frenzy, including calls for emergency laws to save the shows. Burton pledged government help to break the impasse. Dublin Mayor Christy Burke Friday offered to fly to the U.S. and meet Brooks.

“It’s beyond parody at this point — balance and perspective have been totally lost,” said Jane Horgan Jones, a local lawmaker. “It’s not the Cuban Missile crisis, but it feels like that.”

Burke, the mayor, said this week that some local residents wanted President Barack Obama to get involved. The Mexican ambassador in Ireland also offered to mediate. Brooks pleaded with Prime Minister Enda Kenny to intervene.

“If the prime minister himself wants to talk to me I will crawl, swim, I will fly over there this weekend, sit in front of him,” Brooks, 52, said in Nashville Thursday. “I will drop on my knees and beg for those 400,000 people.”

The saga began when Brooks announced in January that he would play two shows in the Croke Park stadium, hemmed in by small red-bricked homes on tight streets on Dublin’s northside.

The show was billed as the Garth Brooks Comeback Special Event. He’d stepped back from recording and touring in 2000. Following overwhelming demand, the promoters, Aiken Promotions, added three more shows.

Aiken sold tickets at $88.50 each, subject to receiving permission from city officials. Local residents swung into action, complaining they would be locked down in their homes for five nights.

Lobby groups representing hotels, bars and restaurants claimed the cancelations would cost the city 50 million euros in lost revenue, and with 70,000 visitors scheduled to fly in to attend the shows, damage Ireland’s reputation, too. Pub owners alone put their loss at 15 million euros, and called on Kenny to get involved.

In parliament this week, Kenny said the affair had been “badly handled” and a “shock” to the system, but shied away from introducing emergency laws.

“The whole episode represents a massive financial hit to our members,” said Donall O’Keeffe, chief executive of the Licensed Vintners Association, which represents Dublin bar owners. “It has caused huge upset to 400,000 people and serious damage to the reputation of our capital city.”

At Kenny’s instigation, city authorities called crisis meetings, and then, a new compromise was offered to Brooks, allowing him to play two afternoon shows on the same day as the other three concerts. Brooks rejected that, saying in Nashville that he didn’t want to perform “half-assed” shows.

Meanwhile, back in parliament, Burton urged talks to continue in an effort to save the shows.

“It’s about a summer celebration,” she said.

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