CLEVELAND - In 1996, the Flats were the place to be; the Indians had the best record in Major League Baseball, and Garth Brooks performed four sold-out concerts at Gund Arena. Fast forward 19 years: The Flats are back, and so is Garth Brooks. The Indians are another story.
Ahead of the first of four weekend shows at Quicken Loans Arena, it was clear Brooks has friends in all places throughout Northeast Ohio, nearly two decades since the country megastar last performed here.
"He's just a phenomenal, phenomenal entertainer, and I just love his music and his stories," said Maureen McGuire, who traveled with her mother from Youngstown to see Brooks for the second time this year.
The Garth Brooks World Tour with Trisha Yearwood drew thousands downtown Friday. They battled bottleneck traffic and parking headaches associated with two back-to-back concerts in one night.
The first concert kicked off just after 7 p.m., with the second starting at 10:30 p.m. Cool, damp weather conditions didn't dampen the mood as fans inundated bars and restaurants before and after the performances.
"It was hard to get through work today because I was so excited. I was like a little kid on Christmas, and I just couldn't wait," said Tom Grodek, of Bay Village.
Many fans were at Brooks' 1996 concert and were ready for an encore. Others were just kids then.
"I've loved him since I was a little kid, and he hasn't toured since I was 11," Grodek said.
During a 1996 press conference, the county legend reminisced about his previous local performance, at the Coliseum in 1990.
"I had a Bernie Kosar jersey on underneath my shirt, and I watched the Cleveland crowd turn into the dog pound, and it scared the hell out of me," Brooks joked.
In 2009, Brooks and Yearwood, his wife, showed up in Vermilion amid his long break from touring.
Some fans expected a whole new style of performance from Brooks in 2015. Others were primed for the same chart-topper who has sold more albums than any other solo artist in U.S. history.
"I bet age didn't get to him at all," Grodek said.
As of Friday evening, tickets still remained for Saturday night's performances.