BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
Hours before show time Thursday, Garth Brooks said backstage, “This is a once in a lifetime show for us.”
When he — and later, wife Trisha Yearwood — hit the massive stage at Mercedes-Benz Stadium just before 9 p.m., it was a performance that immediately conjured an intensity and joy not often seen in artists who have been in the spotlight for four decades (granted, with a several-years break in the mid-‘00s).
But this inaugural concert at the majestic new home to the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United, which pulled in the venue’s biggest crowd of 80,000-plus, left many fans feeling less than charitable about MBS as a concert setting.
From the time openers Mitch Rossell and Karyn Rochelle shared quick sets through Brooks’ barn burner, complaints about sound, primarily on the 300-level, but also throughout the stadium, peppered social media and the MBS Facebook page.
Greg Turner and his wife Yvonne, a huge Brooks fan seeing him for the first time, drove from Ellijay to downtown Atlanta and described their experience as “disappointing.”
“The show itself was phenomenal,” Greg Turner said Friday morning. “That’s the first country concert I’ve ever been to, but I was just extremely disappointed that you couldn’t understand the words being sung.”
The Turners sat in row 26 of the 114 section and paid $545 for their pair of tickets.
“Going to the number of concerts we’ve been to, and with the price of tickets and to come away with that sound quality … My wife even commented on the way out that she’s a huge Garth Brooks fan, but even she couldn’t tell which songs he was playing.”
After the show, the venue team issued this statement: “Garth Brooks played the first concert tonight at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and it was a spectacular show that tens of thousands enjoyed. We have heard some fan concerns about sound quality in certain sections of the upper concourse and sound engineers are looking into that now. We do know that a breaker was tripped that powered speakers in the parts of the upper level for a small amount of time and was resolved.”
On Friday, Steve Cannon, CEO of the AMB group, said there would be no 'blanket refunds.' But the stadium is dealing with unhappy fans on an individual basis. They can call guest services at 470-341-4500.
Cannon did not have a definitive cause for the sound problems yet, noting that the sound team is combing through data. He also did not know if Brooks was made aware of some fans' displeasure.
'This is something every new stadium goes through,' he said. 'They have a concert, then they optimize.'
Shirley Wooten and her husband Scott Harris were originally seated in the 300-level, but gave up about 30 minutes into the show and started to wander around the stadium, hoping to find a better listening spot.
“We walked to the 200-level to see if the sound was better, and it was not. Then we walked outside and it was OK, but I still couldn’t hear the words, and the delay on the video screen was horrible,” she said.
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Wooten saw one of the performances at Philips Arena in 2014 and said it was, “one of THE best concerts of my life. So when I saw him last night, it was so disappointing. The visual (of the stage) was the same, but when the sound started, I was like, this can’t be right.”
Wooten and Harris left just after 10 p.m., shortly after former President Jimmy Carter appeared onstage to present Georgia native Trisha Yearwood with a proclamation.
They watched that scene unfold on a monitor in the Atlanta Falcons merchandise store.
“I’m hoping they learn from this first concert and can fix these issues, because if that’s how it’s going to be, then not a lot of people are going to go,” she said. “We loved the stadium, but at the end of the day, I was just sad.”