Many of the 50,000 fans set to take in one of Garth Brooks’ five upcoming shows have already attended a concert or two of his.
But probably only 87-year-old Muncie Morger of Fort Benton owns a guitar that the famed performer literally removed from his own back during a Las Vegas performance six years ago, signing and handing it over to the stunned Morger.
Morger said she’s thought about bringing Garth’s guitar — now, of course, it's her guitar and proudest possession — to the concert she’ll attend Sunday, but has decided against it.
“Nobody thought taking it to the concert was a good idea, but it’s the only way to prove he gave it to me,” she said. “But I did write about it in the River Press, and I’m sure he’ll remember me.”
Morger said she hopes to speak to Brooks before or after his final Billings performance Sunday.
“Giving his favorite guitar away? I don’t even question it,” said Ray Massie, MetraPark’s marketing and sales director. Massie has worked with Brooks and his handlers for many years during previous stints managing a number of large radio stations. “It is so part of Garth’s character to do something like that.”
The River Press is Fort Benton’s weekly newspaper, where Morger writes the column “View from the Bridge” “pretty much every week without fail,” said Bethany Monroe DeBorde, a reporter at the River Press for the past four years.
“It’s a fun small-town column,” Monroe DeBorde said. “It’s a fixture on the back page every week. I hear from readers it’s the first thing they look for every week.”
Morger “basically tries to keep up with everything going on around town,” Monroe DeBorde said. “She is very pro-Fort Benton. She encourages people to get involved and attend events. It’s kind of her platform.”
It’s also the venue she chose to tell the world about how she came to own an autographed guitar that Brooks had just played during the Las Vegas concert Morger took in with her stepson, Randy, on Sept. 10, 2011.
“This is my 15 minutes of fame. I was a V.I.P. for a few moments and here is the story,” Morger wrote in her Sept. 14, 2011 column.
Her husband Wally, since deceased, had bid on and won a Las Vegas package the previous Christmas season at a Toys for Tots auction.
While Wally instead played cards, Randy and Muncie, who’d celebrated her 82nd birthday the day before, showed up for an evening concert early at the Encore Theatre, where they found an usher.
“I boldly went up to her with the note (she’d written to Brooks) and a crisp 10-dollar bill in my hand, and asked if she would take the note back to Garth,” Morger wrote.
While the usher declined, she offered the two this advice: At the end of the performance, the house lights will come on and Garth will probably ask concert-goers if they have any questions or requests.
During the show, Morger reported, Brooks talked about the kind of music his parents liked and how much they’d influenced his own musical choices. When the house lights did indeed come on at the end of the concert, Randy, “who has an outside voice,” tried three times to shout the performer’s name. After the third time, Brooks gestured toward him, and Randy pointed out that Muncie was there celebrating her birthday.
Led by Brooks, the 2,000 people in attendance sang “Happy Birthday” to her, and Muncie responded by standing and throwing Brooks a kiss.
“I immediately sat down,” she wrote, “because I thought I was going to faint.”
To her astonishment, Brooks then said, “I think I ought to give her a present for her birthday.” He asked someone in the crowd to toss him a marker.
“At this point,” Morger wrote, “I thought that he was going to autograph a CD or a picture for me. Wrong.”
Pen in hand, Brooks told the crowd, “I don’t have anything to write on.”
He began taking the guitar strap off his neck, “and the people went ballistic. They screamed and clapped because they realized what he was going to do.”
He asked her how to spell her first name — with a “cie” or “cy.” On the guitar, he wrote, “Muncie, God Bless, Love, Garth Brooks," and the date — 9-10-11.
“Many of my female friends in Fort Benton, who knew I was going to see Garth’s show, asked me to bring him back with me,” she wrote. “That being an impossible happening, I was now going to bring back what he said was his favorite guitar. Unbelievable.”
Two security guards found her a guitar case, and one guard led Muncie and Randy through the casino so they could show Wally what had just happened. Along the way, gamblers showered her with birthday greetings.
“Randy put the guitar case on a chair and took it out,” she recalled. “The whole place got quiet. Even the dealers were listening. Randy told the whole story, and he told it very well.”
The next day, aboard the shuttle bus headed to the airport, Randy again had a ready audience to explain once again how Muncie had obtained the signed guitar. “It took him all the way to the airport” to recount the story, she said.
After arriving back home in Fort Benton, “I still couldn’t figure out why (Brooks) would give an 82-year-old woman his favorite guitar.” She plugged Garth’s parents' names into a search engine and soon discovered that the performer’s mother, Colleen McElroy, would have been 82 that same year. A country singer herself, McElroy died of cancer in 1999.
“I know he loved his mother very much,” she said.
The real deal
Massie said he’s seen Brooks spend hours signing his name and chatting with radio marketing and management people. “That endears him to every professional broadcaster who has ever played his music,” he said. “That was him. That’s what he did.”
“The only other performer I have seen who treats people at that level is Taylor Swift,” Massie said.
Brooks’ wife, the singer Trisha Yearwood, is much the same, he said. One time while she was revamping her career, she walked into the Phoenix radio station Massie was managing, and she recognized him.
“Oh thank God — somebody I know,” she said, giving Massie "a big hug."
“They are that kind of people,” Massie said. “You can’t be around people for long before they’ll shine you on, but I’ve never seen anything like that out of either of them.”
Not surprisingly, Morger has never put her guitar up for sale, and she says she never will.
“When I’m gone, it will go to my daughter,” she said.
In her column, she described her magical night this way: “It was surreal, unbelievable, mind-boggling, awesome, incredible, miraculous, and a dream.
"Really, none of those words could describe my feelings. This just could not be happening to me. It was my 15 minutes in the limelight.”