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A TRUE TALENT WITH INAUTHENTIC CHARM

Several years ago a young singer named George Strait came to Symphony Hall. He arrived without much fanfare - just another act doing another town.

But the reaction of the crowd that night was staggering, way out of proportion for the man at that stage in his career.Fans like to think the spark they lit here might have ignited Strait's career, boosted him to the top. Today Strait has dressing rooms the size of Symphony Hall.

On Friday night another young singer named Garth Brooks rolled into town. Not much fanfare, but a crowd reaction that bordered on frenzy.

Does it mean Brooks is headed for CMA Entertainer of the Year honors?

Probably so. His show has the manic energy of a Hank Williams Jr. show, without the sleaze. His songs are solid and he's an entertainer at heart.

Will Brooks become a legend?

Not unless he makes some adjustments.

Despite an evening of lauding George Jones and Chris LeDoux, Brooks' true inspiration is obviously Lee Greewood. He knocks the cowboy hat off his head a few too many times to be taken seriously as a rodeo man, and his stage banter gets a bit too slick and thick. The twang in his voice that turns every note into a yodel disappears at convenient times.

But he did get Symphony Hall rocking. "Much Too Young" - his first hit - received such a response he did it twice (the second time with Chris LeDoux in tow). "If Tomorrow Never Comes" and "Not Counting You," his opening number, were drowned out by cheers and squeals.

Years ago Brooks was a young track athlete at Oklahoma State singing in clubs at night - doing cross-over poppish things by Kenny Loggins and knock-off imitations of Willie Nelson and Julio Iglesias. Then he got religion - in the form of Hank Williams Sr. A light went on. And so did a new country make-over.

Today Brooks is riding the crest of the wave - right where every young country singer dreams of being.

He's going to be a blockbuster.

And he'll be more than that, if he learns you can't fool all the people all the time.

Opening the concert was a singer who's known for being authentic, bull rider Chris LeDoux.

LeDoux has developed a rather small - but fanatical - following around the West. His songs - though often lapsing into cliche - carry a special weight because listeners know he's lived the words and emotions.

He also continues to grow as an artist. He works hard and never takes anything or anyone for granted. Friday he reprised old favorites such as "Copenhagen" and "Cowboys Like a Little Bit of Rock 'n Roll." His band plays rock backing most of the time now - a rock style that's fresh to country music but is really derivative of 1960s groups like Buffalo Springfield.

LeDoux was his gentlemanly self. Likable, never pretentious.

But backstage after the show, one wonders if he didn't look over at Brooks and say to himself, "I'd kill for that kind of talent."

And Brooks, looking over at LeDoux, may have thought: "I'd kill for that man's authenticity."