Garth has friends in grassy places
Thousands turn out for urban hoedown in Central Park
August 7, 1997
Web posted at: 11:10 p.m. EDT (0310 GMT)
NEW YORK (CNN) -- If there were any question whether a country music artist could draw a crowd in a city where a fiddle is still called a violin, Garth Brooks put it to rest Thursday.
A crowd estimated by concert organizers at 750,000 people, and by police at 250,000, turned out to see a free, nearly two-hour performance in Central Park from Brooks, who wore his trademark cowboy hat and admitted in the opening moments that, "I'm naturally scared to death right now."(1.7MB/43 sec. QuickTime Movie)
"Not only do I thank God you guys came, you came in New York style," he said, to a roar from concert-goers.
Brooks was joined on stage by two surprise guest stars, Billy Joel and Don MacLean, who brought down the house with an acoustic rendition of "American Pie." Joel and Brooks had earlier joined forces in an apropos duet of "New York State of Mind."
The superstar's Manhattan mega-show was the park's first oversized free concert since the 1993 appearance of Luciano Pavarotti, who drew 250,000 people.
Police declined to give an estimate of the crowd size. The figure of 750,000 was announced from the stage. Overhead shots showed fans completely filling the park's North Meadow, where the concert took place on a stage so large that Brooks had to run from one end to the other.
Crowds began arriving early Thursday, with hundreds camping out overnight on Fifth Avenue to be among the first in when the concert area opened at 10 a.m. They then waited in the heat all day for the 8 p.m. event.
The lawn in front of the stage was so packed that some people resorted to using their cellular phones -- to talk to friends they could only see and wave at.
At the concert, people who live in New York City, which doesn't even have a country radio station, seemed to be a bit of minority. The state flags of Texas and Wyoming waved in front of the stage, and people told tales of extensive travel to make it to the event.
"We would've crossed the country for Garth," said Bo Williams, who drove 7 1/2 hours with a group of friends from Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.
And while the show was free and broadcast by HBO, some fans shelled out big bucks for the privilege of being there.
"I had to come see this. There was no choice," said Shawn Stoval, 21, from Casper, Wyoming, who spent $600 for an airline ticket to New York.
"It's kind of wild that it's New York City," said Amy Morris, 22, from Nyack College in Rockland County, north of the city. "You think of cities and you don't think of country music."
Brooks, whose 1990 album "No Fences" sold 13 million copies, is known for the hits "Shameless," "The Thunder Rolls" and "Friends in Low Places."
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