Any attempt to hide the poorly-kept secret that Garth Brooks was coming out of retirement for an extended run at the Wynn Las Vegas’s 1500-seat Encore Theater was blown the minute journalists here for the press conference walked into their rooms:  The TVs were turned on with Brooks’ 1997 Central Park concert on a continuous loop.


By 2:05 p.m., it was official.  The top-selling solo artist in the U.S. will begin a series of dates in Las Vegas Dec. 11. He and Steve Wynn, chairman/CEO of Wynn Resorts announced the five-year deal from the stage of the Encore Theater.


Tickets go on sale Oct. 24 for the first slate of dates that covers five weekends between Dec. 11 and Feb. 26, 2010.  All seats are priced at $125, a fee hotly contested between Brooks, who has never charged more than $25 for a ticket, and Wynn, who wanted to scale the house, although he stressed that the farthest seat from the stage is only 71 feet.   Fellow Vegas headliners Bette Midler and Cher charge up to  $227, but also offer cheaper seats. In order to discourage scalping, all tickets must be picked up in person the day of show with valid ID and will not be distributed in advance. Tickets will be sold through Wynn’s own ticketing system.


The 90-minute shows will feature Brooks accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar as he recounts his musical influences such as Merle Haggard, Bob Seger, Cat Stevens and James Taylor, performing both their songs, as well as many of his hits.


Wynn and Brooks conflicted over who made the first overture about Brooks playing the room, but they agreed on one thing: “I told him he couldn’t afford me,” Brooks said, pausing for comedic effect. “I was wrong.” No other financial details of the arrangement were given.


In 2000, Brooks announced he would retire in order to spend time with his three young daughters, declaring that he would not tour until after his youngest daughter, Allie, graduated from high school in 2015. However, Wynn made it possible to still allow Brooks to take his kids to school every morning in Oklahoma by structuring the deal where Brooks plays one show on Friday, two on Saturday and one on Sunday.  “In order to accomplish this goal, I will confess I had to buy him a jet plane,” Wynn said.  There are no plans for Brooks to tour outside of the Vegas deal or to put out new music.


Although the contract is nominally for five years, Brooks said that he can stop if he feels the pact isn’t working for him and his family.  “[Wynn] said, ‘All I need you to do is the shows [already] put on sale. You fulfill them, you can quit anytime.’” For that reason, shows will be announced each quarter for the following quarter so he can coordinate with his kids’ schedules, Brooks said.


Since announcing his retirement, Brooks has played selected dates, including nine sold-out dates at Kansas City’s Sprint Center in November 2007 and five sold-out shows at Los Angeles’ Staples Center over a two-day period in  January 2008. Although he had not released an album of all-new material since 2001’s “Scarecrow,” the concerts, which sold out instantly, showed demand for Brooks as a live performer was still strong. He was also one of the first artists to do an exclusive deal through Wal-Mart, starting with “The Limited Series,” a six-CD boxed set, in November 2005. Brooks, who lives in Oklahoma with wife Trisha Yearwood, has sold more than 123 million albums,  according to the Recording Industry Assn. of America, with sales of more than 113 million.


Brooks takes the place of Danny Gans, who died May 1. Wynn did not discount other artists playing in the theater when Brooks is not there; Wynn said Beyonce has said she wants to come back, but he made it clear the theater is reserved for Brooks.  “He’s taking control of the room. Who he brings on stage, what he does is strictly his business. Truly, I just provided the hall,” said Wynn. “This is Garth Brooks’ home.”

 

In addition to the Vegas run, Brooks also addressed his absence from the digital space in a press conference earlier today in Nashville: he and the Beatles remain the largest holdouts.  He said that until there is iTunes offers variable pricing (which they already do in a limited fashion) and, more importantly to him, albums-only sales, he will continue to abstain.

 

Tonight there's a press dinner with Brooks. We'll post an update if he plays or says anything noteworthy.