What gift do you give a guy like Garth Brooks?
Roanne Kalkman and her son Ryan Blackwell were still puzzling that out after they’d flown from Smithers to Las Vegas and were just hours from a backstage meeting with Ryan’s country-rock idol.
When she last spoke to the Interior News, Kalkman had just landed the tickets—something she’d been trying to do for Ryan for more than a decade.
But with likely just one chance to see Brooks live, Kalkman wanted to go the extra mile. She wrote to Brooks’ fan club, his hotel, even the Ellen DeGeneres Show to request a backstage pass for Ryan, who is developmentally delayed.
Finally, it was a Facebook campaign by her Hollywood producer cousin that made the connection. Expecting a call from his manager, Kalkman says she was shocked when Garth Brooks called her himself.
“He was so gracious,” she said, laughing. “It was 9:30 at night, and he was apologizing for calling late.”
“He could have called at two in the morning—it would have fine!”
Brooks told Kalkman that he would meet her and Ryan after Vegas set.
What he didn’t say was that he had already picked up the tab for the concert, arranged to treat the pair to an upscale Vegas dinner and sent Ryan a big box of fan gear.
After all that, Kalkman didn’t want to go to the show empty-handed.
But what to get a 67-million-record-selling country music star?
Kalkman got the answer thinking of the Garth Brooks shirts Ryan likes to wear. Just in time, she found a custom T-shirt maker, snapped a portrait shot of Ryan, and made Brooks the first Ryan Blackwell shirt with text that read “Ryan’s my fan.”
Gift in hand, they headed hear Brooks play an acoustic set at the Encore.
“It’s a little bigger than the Della Herman Theatre,” Kalkman said. “For Garth it’s a really small, intimate venue.”
The theatre held an even smaller audience before the show, when Roanne, Ryan, Ryan’s caregiver Jeannie and her sister were the only ones inside in time to hear Brooks’ opening soundcheck.
“Suddenly Garth walks out, in sweatpants, a hoodie, baseball cap and big yellow sneakers,” Kalkman says. “I’ve never seen anyone more beautiful!”
Brooks walked straight up to Ryan and introduced himself, she said, and minutes later had Ryan dancing in his seat as he sang Standing Outside the Fire just for him.
Kalkman said the show pulled out all the stops. Afterwards, she and Ryan went backstage for what they thought was a 20-minute chat.
“When it was our turn, Ryan went busting through everyone, made a beeline for Garth,” Kalkman says. “Garth opened his arms wide, said ‘Hi buddy!’ and gave him a huge bearhug.”
They hit it off, Kalkman said, and for two hours the small group swapped stories about Ryan’s life and Brooks’ music.
Trisha Yearwood, a Grammy-awarded country star and Brooks’ wife, later joined in was soon showing Ryan photos of the Brooks’ family dogs.
Last week, Kalkman was still beaming about the trip while at work in Smithers, and proudly sporting her own Garth Brooks shirt.
Kalkman said she and Ryan have been in touch with Brooks and Yearwood since, and are just amazed what kind, everyday people they are.
“This whole experience has been far more than I could have ever dreamed for my son,” she said.