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Garth Brooks is coming out of retirement [UDPATED]

October 15, 2009 |  8:12 am

Getprev-14 Eight years after trading in his Stetson and pop music superstardom for domestic life raising his three young daughters, Garth Brooks, the biggest-selling solo performer of all time, has decided to dust off that hat and come out of retirement.

There has been widespread speculation that he will perform in Las Vegas, and there is a news conference scheduled at Wynn Las Vegas this afternoon.

Brooks has sold more than 128 million albums in the U.S., according to the Recording Industry Assn. of America, second only to the Beatles’ 170 million albums.  Brooks has outsold the Fab Four -- more than 68 million, to the Beatles’ 58 million -- in the 18 years since Nielsen SoundScan began monitoring retail sales in 1991, two years after Brooks released his first single. The RIAA lists six of Brooks’ albums with sales of 10 million or more copies each.

During the 1990s he also was one of the most popular concert attractions in the world. Amusement Business magazine ranked his 1996 tour the biggest country music tour in history after he sold 1.8 million tickets that year.

“I think Garth is a huge attraction,” says Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the concert tracking magazine Pollstar. “He could go headline arenas right now if he wanted to.”

Any lingering questions about Brooks’ ongoing drawing power were obliterated in 2007 when he played nine concerts in Kansas City, Mo., in conjunction with the release that fall of his compilation album “Ultimate Hits.” He initially planned one show at the 19,000-capacity Spring Center Arena as a thank-you to employees of Wal-Mart, but demand quickly led to the addition of eight more shows that were opened to the general public. All nine sold out in a matter of minutes.

Two months later he quickly sold out five shows at Staples Center in Los Angeles that were benefits for firefighters and victims of wildfires that had recently scorched broad swaths of Southern California. As he had done previously, Brooks insisted the tickets be affordable to rank-and-file music fans. Tickets for the Kansas City shows were $25, and for the Staples Center dates the face-value seats topped out at $45.

Several major life events preceded the announcement of Brooks’ retirement. His mother died in 1999, and the following year he and his wife of 14 years, Sandy, were divorced. The couple’s daughters were 8, 6 and 4 at the time. They’re now 17, 15 and 13 and live in Oklahoma with Brooks and singer Trisha Yearwood, who married in 2005.

Brooks, widely regarded as one of country music’s savviest businessmen, also was looking ahead, knowing that no act stays at the top forever and eyeing a new crop of young male stars such as Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban on the rise as the new millennium dawned. So he chose to bow out while he was still riding high.

"I have respect for artists who keep making music their entire life, but I don't want to ride that downside of the [sales] curve," he said in 1996. "You want to be remembered at your best."

Barbra Streisand sparked grumbling from some of her fans a few years after her highly touted -- and high-priced -- “farewell” concerts when the singer announced she would do some more concerts after all.

But few expect any backlash about Brooks’ change of heart.

“He has so much goodwill built up, he always put on outstanding live shows, nobody ever thought they got taken advantage of by Garth Brooks — those are all positives working in his favor,” Bongiovanni said. “I think fans all expect to [entertainers who retire] to come back sooner or later.”

-- Randy Lewis

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Photo: Garth Brooks at Staples Center in 2008. Credit: Lori Shepler / Los Angeles Times

UPDATED 4:46 P.M.: An earlier version of this post said a Kansas City concert in 2007 had started as a thank you to employees of Wal-mart, which exclusively handled his “Ultimate Hits” CD/DVD collection. His exclusive deal with Wal-Mart had ended before that set was released.

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