Hillbilly Highway – Party on, Garth

by Sheldon Birnie

It’s a shitty day in Winnipeg, and all I wanna do is listen to Garth. I know there’s some good shows coming up, some local talent to profile, but I only wanna write about Garth. There’s a whole world to explore on the Highway today, but all signs point to Garth.

So fuck it. Garth Brooks is a beauty. The biggest star in the world at one point, Garth took country music to a whole new level, and many have lamented that fact and cursed his name ever since.

For years, I was in that camp. Garth Brooks and Top 40 country were everywhere in my hometown in northeastern BC. On the radio on the way to school, on the PA before and after hockey games, on the tape deck in my buddy’s dad’s truck, on your baby sitter’s TV set. I couldn’t stand living in a world where Garth Brooks was King.

When I was 17, we used to drink beers in my buddy Nick’s basement. His parents were huge Garth fans. I’m sure they had every album, even the Chris Gaines “Greatest Hits” disc. They both had at least one sweet Garth concert t-shirt, and their TV was generally tuned to CMT, too. Nick’s parents were beauties, but we just didn’t understand at the time. We were too caught up in smoking pot and listening to Fat Wreck Chords comps.

My friend Lisa Moore, guitar-lady with local grungy-blues-babes the Bushtits, grew up in a town not unlike my own. Her history with Big Garth sounds a lot like mine.

“I have strong but mixed feelings about Garth,” Lisa says. “I grew up in northern Alberta in the 90s. I remember riding the bus on gym outings in grade 10 with The Hits blasting in my discman while publicly pretending not to be into country music, because radio-friendly country is what everybody else on the goddamned bus was listening to. But hell, he had some crazy steroid hooks going on.”

Sure, G-Force has some stomach turning ballads, and everything he did was over-the-fucking-top, but that’s the point. Go big or go home, right? Fuckin’ A. Besides, what good rural Canadian can say they haven’t karaoke’d the shit out of “Friends in Low Places”?

“There’s something universal about “Friends in Low Places,’” says Lisa, “Even if all of your friends are t-shirt designers who listen to She & Him.”

Back of a Garth sweater that I own. And wear. Regularly.

Not convinced? Pump “Aint Goin Down Til the Sun Comes Up” cruising the commute home on a Friday afternoon. Listen to “Beaches of Cheyenne” when you feel like maybe you got off to the wrong foot your significant someone — it could be worse, pal! Or take a look at any live video of Garth and Co rocking the fuck out of Anywhere, USA.

Sure, I’d take Dwight over Garth six out of seven days of the week, but hell, G-Force has his place. Like a shitty Tuesday in Winnipeg when “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)” came up on the music box and, for a couple minutes, the biggest star on the Highway and a downtrodden skid in worn out boots felt the same damn thing.

Keep it rocking, friends. Party on, Garth.

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