September 5, 2014 8:42 am

Garth Brooks gets warm welcome as he returns to the road

Garth Brooks, pictured on Sept. 4, 2014.

Daniel Boczarski / Getty Images

ROSEMONT, Ill. – Garth Brooks wondered if his fans would come back. He got his answer when he returned to the stage Thursday night.

The 52-year-old country star reunited with thousands of enthusiastic fans during his official return to the road after more than a decade largely away from the music industry.

“You came back, you came back!” Brooks yelled at the Allstate Arena crowd in the Chicago suburbs where he plans 10 more shows. He later told his fans, “I could not ask for a better start than this, people.”

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Brooks began the day by announcing he was releasing his back catalogue bundled with his next two albums of new music through a digital pay service, which he founded and partly owns, making his music available digitally for the first time. Brooks will continue his comeback by releasing albums in November and fall 2015.

He played a portion of that back catalogue later in the evening, energetically running around the stage like the old days as he worked through hits like “Rodeo,” ”The Thunder Rolls,” ”The River” and “The Dance.” He also played his new single “People Loving People.”

The crowd let out a huge cheer after Brooks strummed just the first four notes of his biggest hit “Friends in Low Places.”

Brooks’ wife, country singer Trisha Yearwood, joined him on stage for two songs and sang a set of her own hits, including “XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl)” and “She’s in Love With the Boy,” along with new song “PrizeFighter.”

Brooks entered semi-retirement in 2001 near the height of his popularity to raise his three daughters in Oklahoma. Since then he has performed an extended run in Las Vegas and done a few charity shows, but largely stayed true to his fatherhood plan until his youngest daughter graduated from high school. His comeback will continue later this month with multiple shows in Atlanta before he moves on to Jacksonville, Florida, next month.

The singer’s been gone from the spotlight for so long, he wondered before the show if his fans might return. He said he’d know he has something going if the young fans in the crowd sang along Thursday night.

“And to you younger people who knew every single word,” Brooks said at the conclusion of the show, “thank you so, so much.”

© The Associated Press, 2014

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