CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- On the one hand, Garth Brooks' drive-in event could be considered a positive step in the right direction for those who crave a return to "normal" -- with normal, in this case, being a time and a place for large numbers of people to come together to enjoy big-budget entertainment.
On the other: If this is what the future of "concert-going" looks like, go ahead and count me out.
Honestly, I don't know exactly what I was expecting to get out of the experience of seeing "Encore Live Presents Garth Brooks: A Drive-In Concert Experience," a prerecorded performance screened Saturday night at more than 300 outdoor theaters in the U.S. and Canada and billed as the 58-year-old country megastar's return to "live" performing.
But I could feel in my bones from the moment he and his band made their first on-screen appearance on stage -- while breaking into 1993 hit "Ain't Goin' Down ('Til the Sun Comes Up)" -- that whatever those expectations might be, this event wasn't going to meet them.
I saw it at the Hounds Drive-In in Kings Mountain. Here are the things that stood out to me about the experience:
1. The whole "opening act" thing was a head-scratcher. Or, at least, the way it was presented during this particular show didn't work. Though I do have my misgivings about Brooks' prerecorded production, I still would have preferred seeing a mini-concert film by "opener" Randall King instead of just being forced to sit through five of his music videos (all of which can easily be accessed online). Another option would have been for Brooks to forgo an opener altogether and add five songs to his set, which was already short at just 1 hour and 14 minutes.
2. It did not come anywhere near replicating the thrill of a true live performance. Look, I get it. I knew going in that this was a concert film and nothing more, as should have anyone who took the time to do even a little bit of homework beforehand -- or to read the fine print on the ticket, which clearly stated, "It is not live and Garth Brooks will not be in attendance."
But to me, Brooks' performance, though energetic, came off as one-dimensional. I didn't feel connected to it much at all. I think that's in part because it was missing a similarly energetic response from the audience, which naturally had less reason to cheer because ... well, why bother? He can't actually hear you cheering.
On top of that, it was almost too perfect, too slickly produced. There was nothing raw or spontaneous about it.
"He has spent weeks on this performance," said Encore Live founder and CEO Walter Kinzie told me before the event. "Garth worked around the clock on it at his ranch near Nashville and then in his studio in Nashville to bring this thing to life. It's been an ongoing process."