I know you didn't win "Entertainer of the Year" at the Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards on Sunday, but I remember when you won that award twenty three years ago. It was the 1992 ACM Awards that took place during the L.A. Riots, that later inspired you to go on to write "We Shall Be Free." Your most controversial song, it's the song you sang in 2009 at President Obama's inauguration. A song that says, "When we're free to love anyone we choose..."
But more than any lyric, you said something in an interview in 1999 that is really important this week, more than ever.
"...But if you're in love, you've got to follow your heart and trust that God will explain to us why we sometimes fall in love with people of the same sex."
I've read that your family has been a big part of your support for LGBT people throughout your career, and that is something we share. It warms my heart to consider that your sister Betsy has already gotten the explanation directly for herself, and that she was able to have family like you that encouraged her to follow her heart during the time she had on Earth to love.
When I was 5 or 6 years old, my parents divorced. A package was waiting for me at the new apartment my mother and I moved into. It was addressed from your fan club.
Even though your entry arrived after the deadline for the contest to find the "Biggest Garth Brooks Fan in The World," we all agree that you are undoubtedly the winner. We can't give you the grand prize certificate for CDs, but we are sending you some of Garth's favorite CDs and an autographed picture from Garth.
How did the New York-dwelling son of a gay male science teacher and a straight female artist discover Garth Brooks at all, much less become "the biggest fan in the world?"
I'd recently spent a summer with my Uncle Wayne and his sons in Wyoming. A true cowboy, he bought me my first Wranglers, boots and hat. He took me to the rodeo, taught me to lasso and got this city slicker to carry firewood. We listened to your music all the time.
Summer ended, but that Halloween I was the only kid in Brooklyn who trick-or-treated as Garth Brooks. My mom helped me make a Grammy out of aluminum foil.
So when a friend offered me a ticket to see you on April 15, 2015 in Portland, OR, I took it, and I called my mom. "Maybe you want to wear a different pair of glasses than your pink ones?" she said when I told her I was going. "There are still mean people in this world, and the world needs you in it."
"People looked at me like I was nuts for being Garth on Halloween. Now I'm going to worry about what people think about being me at Garth?" I replied.
It was a weeknight, but from the moment you appeared on stage, it was a Saturday night. I once heard an interview where you talked about connecting with fans at shows, catching their eyes, sharing a moment with that one person out of a stadium. I saw it. I felt 5 again, wanting you to know the love I have for you, wanting that connection. And I realized: I have that.
You gave it to me as a child, when I needed it most.
I watched nervously at the end of Trisha's set, as the camera darted around with the "kiss cam" during "She's in Love With The Boy." I thought about how Portland has the second highest percentage of LGBT people of any metro area, and wondered what would happen. Nothing did. I didn't notice any same-sex couples among all the heterosexual couples, so there was no "photobombing." I felt isolated and a little sad, standing there in my tidy suit and pink-framed specs. I should tell you that my parents' divorce happened when my dad could no longer deny the truth that he was gay. In that time of my life, your voice soothed me when I was alone and afraid in this world. You sang me to sleep on countless nights, nights when my dad wasn't there.
To win the "Biggest Garth Brooks Fan in the World" contest, fans were asked to share their favorite song of yours, and their favorite lyric from it. I chose "I'm Shaving." I was just learning to write and my mom had me do it on my own. You know that big paper where kids draw on the top half, and they can write on the lines on the bottom half? I used that paper to draw a picture of you shaving. Underneath it I wrote, "I like it when he sings, I'm shaving."
When my mom saw it, she broke it to me that the song was actually called "I'm Shameless." I shut myself in my room and cried and cried. My favorite song was ruined, and it wasn't the same anymore. Looking back, though, it's wonderful that I didn't yet know the word shame -- a word that would come to be a prominent theme in my life for many years both as the son of a gay man and as a child of divorce.
As you sang that song the other night, I smiled, realizing that even today, it still sounds like shaving. Tears ran down my face. 25 years, and I was finally shameless. For shame is the ultimate block to love.
That night I was moved above all else by your song "People Loving People." It is as important, if not more important, than "We Shall Be Free" has been for decades. It manages to capture something I've never heard in a song, that the problems in the news will only be solved by people loving people.
To love is to give undivided attention, and that's what you do, fan after fan. As that song ended, I was in tears. I saw you up there loving as I've never seen another performer.
When you closed with "Unanswered Prayers," I thought of the many people who are fighting against the right of all people to marry, and the insanity of trying to prohibit love in the name of God. But I also thought of all those people who are struggling to love the people who wish to deny them the right to marry the people they love.
It's time for us to love people, gay, straight or otherwise. Today I love the people opposed to marriage equality as much as I love those who stand with me supporting it. Because people loving people is the only answer, even at the Supreme Court.
As the lights came up after the show and people slowly left, I saw a lesbian couple, one of them wearing a G t-shirt. They'd had seats in the very front, and I watched them walk out in each other's arms: people loving people.
When I stood in the crowd with my pink glasses and suit, I understood the purpose of my life. That I was born into a world where I loved my mamma, and I loved my gay dad and I loved my cowboy uncle. That's what love is about, knowing that none of us are so different that we don't share something. Without love, there is no "People."
Music does it. Your music does it. You bring us all together, in one voice, one song, one love. The Beatles, Elvis and Garth were the best-selling artists of the twentieth century. Those records were about love. Yet the issue is still in front of us today.
Garth, you may not have won 'Entertainer of the Year" at the ACM Awards in 2015, but you are, and have always been, the "Entertainer of the People." This is the time to sing louder than ever, with the Supreme Court hearing arguments on marriage equality on April 28. As the World's Biggest Garth Brooks Fan, I call on you this week to sing in chorus with all of your fans and all of your family who know that the only answer is #PeopleLovingPeople.
My dad has now been with his partner for nearly twenty years. It's time. To quote a hero of mine, "The answer is you and me. People. If we aren't going to do it, then who is?" - Buster
The opinions expressed are solely those of Buster Ross.
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