Six hours before playing his first of two shows at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Garth Brooks told a bunch of reporters it was going to be the same show he had put on at the venue just 11 months before. The same guys, the same songs, the same fun.

What a gross understatement.

Yes, technically, Brooks wasn’t wrong. He had the same backing band with him Saturday night — skilled musicians who have been by his side since the late 1980s and early 90s. He did all of his same hits, energizing the crowd with “Two Pina Coladas” and “Friends in Low Places,” and slowing things down with “The River” and “The Dance.” 

He was also unquestionably having as much fun. Even after three decades of touring, Brooks smiles and sprints across the stage as if it’s his first time playing for a massive crowd of fans. He takes no moment for granted. 

The same guys, the same songs, the same fun.

But herein lies the magic of Brooks: It was a completely different show. 

And the biggest reason for that is simple: Brooks responds to his fans. 

When a man in the crowd held up a sign that said, “I worked 70 hours this week to come hear ‘The Cowboy Song,’” Brooks couldn’t ignore that. If it wasn’t on his setlist at the start of the show, it was now. 

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When the stadium went wild after “Two Pina Coladas,” the country superstar got a crazed look in his eyes as his energy went up a notch.

“Like throwing gasoline on a fire!” he shouted with his arms wide open.

Every cheer, every scream, every round of applause seemed to course through his veins. When he noticed that a fan had been holding up a sign requesting “In Lonesome Dove” for a while, Brooks gave his band a brief break and played a snippet of the song. It’s typical for him to take fan requests, but it’s something he usually saves for the end of his show, in a segment he calls “housekeeping.” This was still fairly early on. 

“I feel like there are just no rules tonight!” he exclaimed. 

Stadium tours are generally well-oiled machines to the point that artists don’t often change things up too much. But Brooks likes to deviate, and no show is the same.

Ahead of his Salt Lake shows, the 60-year-old singer said that rather than becoming “old hat,” these moments of playing for a crowd have become “more and more precious” as he’s gotten older.

And it’s easy to see he means that. 

He delivered hit after hit. He played to every part of the stadium, waving, blowing kisses and making hearts with his hands all the while. Sometimes, he stood back and let his audience do the singing. When he got to “Unanswered Prayers,” he raised his guitar toward the sky and let his fans’ voices wash over him.

Although it was a substantially cooler night than the one he played 11 months before, Brooks worked himself into enough of a frenzy to sweat through his black “Just LeDoux It” shirt — honoring his friend and fellow country singer Chris LeDoux, who had his own strong following in Utah.

And he hadn’t even gotten to Trisha Yearwood yet.

Brooks speaks about his wife, who he lovingly calls “the queen,” with the same passion he brings to performing. The moment Yearwood hit the stage, delivering her powerhouse vocals to the hit song “Shallow” from the 2018 film “A Star is Born,” you could sense Brooks’ awe. And he wasn’t the only one.

In that moment, the concert — which had already featured well over 20 songs — seemed to somehow reach an even higher level of energy. Yearwood wasn’t with Brooks for his Utah performance last year, and the crowd erupted at the sight of the country star, bedazzled in sparkly pink boots and a matching pink jacket.

“Everybody treats her like the queen and it’s like, ‘Who’s the guy with her?’” Brooks previously told reporters with a beaming smile. “I always feel good until she shows up in the room, and then I’m a plus one kind of guy. But I can tell you that there is no other human being on the planet I’d rather be next to.”

That chemistry was palpable as the pair sang together and held hands on stage. When Yearwood went on to sing two of her biggest hits, “She’s in Love With the Boy” and “Walkaway Joe,” Brooks softly accompanied her on guitar and shook his head in amazement as he listened to his wife’s voice.

Yearwood seemed just as amazed by her audience.

“This is the place!” she proclaimed, perhaps alluding to Brigham Young’s famous declaration when the pioneers first reached the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Brooks, who has been vocal about his love of Utah, later echoed that statement.

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This would’ve been an extremely high note to end on. Everyone in attendance would’ve felt they’d gotten their money’s worth.

But Brooks still wasn’t done.

Once Yearwood exited the stage, Brooks transformed a stadium filled with 50,000-plus people into a kind of karaoke night. Sans band, he managed to make a stadium feel like a living room as he sang everything from Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” to George Strait’s “Amarillo By Morning” to Don McLean’s “American Pie.”

In total, he performed for 2 ½ hours straight. It was his third show at Rice-Eccles Stadium in less than a year, and he made an effort to make each one distinct.

It was a true sign of going above and beyond for his fans, because let’s be honest: All three shows could’ve been exactly the same, and not a soul would have complained.