Garth Brooks is big. I knew he was big but I didn't realise he was huge! A singer of such epic proportion, but looking like an extra from City Slickers, he has relegated the World Cup, a newly created Caliphate, an upcoming government reshuffle, the election of a new leader of the Labour Party, assorted other political shenanigans in Ireland, Marching Season Madness and any sleb tittle tattle onto page 32. The ''Will Garth play Croke Park?'' is the only story in town, and it seems a particularly Irish story.
I've heard Brooks' stuff and I really, really, really dislike it. Unless it's Hank Williams, Willie Nelson or Johnny Cash, it ain't country. Brooks gives music a bad name but people love him. They love him so much that 400,000 of them, some from as far away as New Zealand and the States have bought tickets to five gigs in Croke Park scheduled for a couple of weeks time.
And there lies the problem. Croke Park is owned by the GAA who have an understanding with local residents that there will be consultations and negotiations with those residents over concerts. 80,000 people a night descending on your street does tend to cause problems. The original deal covered three consecutive nights at Croke Park, but it seems that the GAA and the concert promoters got carried away with themselves, adding two extra nights, which sold out immediately.
More importantly they added them without telling the residents or making sure that the licence was in place to allow any of the concerts to go ahead. In Ireland there is a tradition of putting the cart before the horse - book the act, book the venue, print the tickets, sell the tickets and assume the licence will be granted.
This time around, some of the residents threatened legal action if these five concerts went ahead. Radio phone in shows were jammed with callers pro Concert anti Resident, pro Resident anti GAA, pro Garth anti everything else. The only thing all could agree on was that the promoter and the GAA are responsible for the mess. Then late yesterday afternoon, Dublin City Council issued a statement saying that three of the concerts would be licenced to go ahead, not five.
Cue more media frenzy. The manager of Dublin City is Owen Keegan, an increasingly controversial figure in some circles, and it was he who took the decision on grounds, it seems, of possible anti social behaviour and the chaos five nights of Garth Brooks would cause the residents around the stadium.
Then came word from the Brooksmeister himself - it was the five concerts or none at all.
To choose which shows to do and which shows not to do, would be like asking to choose one child over another...I have faith that Dublin City Council will make the best decision for the people of Ireland.
Garth must be getting confused with that old country standard ''Both my kids have acute renal failure and I have only one kidney to give'' because it's not the same thing at all. And a someone who knows about these things apparently, a caller to one of the shows, said that gigs four and five are pure gravy to Brooks - its where all the profit lies. So enough of that Oklahoman homespun wisdom, Garth.
Anyway, we heard in short order from the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Christy Burke, who said that the City manager's decision is final and non reversible followed by Fianna Fáil’s tourism spokesman, Timmy Dooley, who published a bill yesterday which he said allowed for an appeals process in circumstances where a local authority refuses to grant an event licence. He then went on to call for Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar and Environment Minister Phil Hogan to get involved to save the two shows and the tickets of 160,000 punters. With politicians ducking for cover, a spokesperson for Hogan pointed out that Minister Jan O’Sullivan is responsible for planning matters and it didn't matter anyway as ministers were prohibited from intervening in what was purely a Dublin City Council fiasco, thank you very much.
There is a lot of money at stake here, money that the local as well as national economy will benefit from, so the Restaurants Association of Ireland is now calling for a single, national, events body to streamline all tourism music and sporting events in Ireland, with its chief executive, Adrian Cummins, claiming:
The breakdown in communication between organisations in the Garth Brooks fiasco has the potential to damage Brand Ireland abroad, but also tourism businesses internally
I'm never sure what people mean when they say things like Brand Ireland, but Lord Henry Mouncharles of Slane Castle and mega gig fame pitched his euro worth in, bemused as to how it got to this situation. The subtext was it wouldn't happen at Slane, although he fell just short of saying ''we'll help them out, I have a spare castle doing nothing at the mo''.
Even newly-elected Labour Party leader and Tánaiste, Joan Burton, weighed into the row, stating: “I am very sorry for all of the fans,” adding: “I hope an amicable agreement can be reached.” PolSpeak for thank Christ this is nothing to do with me. Any politician who can sort this out will be guaranteed at least an extra 160,000 votes next time around.
The only person who seemed to talk any sense was a lawyer whose name I'm ashamed to admit I've forgotten. She was supposed to be on talking about something really important like police racially profiling minority communities, particularly the Roma, but she was inevitably asked about this debacle. She said that the country should take Brooks up on his offer to stay away. My sort of lawyer. And music critic.