When George Michael and Garth Brooks sang 'Freedom' together and country pop peaked

29 June 2023, 14:00

George Michael and Garth Brooks in 2000
George Michael and Garth Brooks in 2000. Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

By the year 2000, Garth Brooks had established himself as the most successful country artist of all time.

Garth Brooks was the biggest country star with hundreds of millions of record sales in the US.

Meanwhile, George Michael was one of the most iconic pop singers of the 1980s and 1990s. However, George had been through a difficult few years following his arrest for lewd conduct in the States.

Despite the legal setback, George had owned the situation with the release of his song 'Outside', and he was still one of the biggest popstars around the world.

In 2000, George and Garth took part in a one-off concert called Equality Rocks, at the Robert F Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Washington, DC.

George Michael after trying on Garth Brooks' cowboy hat
George Michael after trying on Garth Brooks' cowboy hat. Picture: Getty

George was one of the headliners of the concert, billed as the largest event benefiting LGBT issues. He was joined by the likes of Brooks, Queen Latifah and Ellen DeGeneres.

The concert was held the night before the Millennium March, an LGBT march in Washington DC that saw over a million people take part.

Arguably the highlight of the concert, was the sight of George performing his hit song 'Freedom 90', only to bring out Garth Brooks mid-performance.

Watch the performance below:

George Michael & Garth Brooks - Freedom '90 (Equality Rocks 2000)

Before he began his set, George also opened up about his private life, and the legal troubles he had experienced in the States.

His speech in full was:

Okay, this is the first time I’ve actually been on an American stage since 1991. So I hope you all forgive me if I give a brief rundown of... well for any non-George Michael fans out there – and God knows there are a few of you. I hope you’ll allow me to just tell you what I’ve been doing for a while.

1991 was actually the same year that I had my first relationship with a man. I was 27 years old. I know the guys are thinking.. you’re thinking: 'Fuck! Fancy going 27 years without a decent shag.' But believe me, I’ve been making up for lost time!

Anyway, his name was Anselmo Feleppa and he was a beautiful warm-hearted, funny human being. I loved him very, very much. In 1993, he died of an AIDS-related brain haemorrhage. And I found myself in the same position as so many people out here tonight. And it took a while to get over that.

In the meantime, the British press, and therefore the international press, had a field day. They reported my partner’s death and of course my sexuality in their normal charming way. And although, actually in nobody really bothered.. actually, by that time journalists in this country weren’t really taking much notice of me. So a lot of people, I guess here, didn’t know about that. But believe me, the rest of the world, they did.

Anyway, I thought the best way to respond to the tabloids and the international rags was to write and sing an album for Anselmo. About loving him and about losing him. When I did that it took me a couple of years because it was a kind of recovery, but I released it in 1996. It was called Older and it became.. thank you … it became internationally – outside of America – it became my fastest-selling and biggest-selling album. I released two singles from it. One was called 'Jesus to a Child', the other was called 'Fastlove'.

And even though they were actually both records that topped the charts in Europe for a couple of month at a time, funnily enough, no one here played them. So most Americans didn’t get to hear that album.

So skip forward a couple of years, 1998 and I find myself performing to what I thought was a gay audience of one, in a Beverly Hills restroom. It sounds so much better than, doesn’t it, restroom? And unfortunately, unlike this beautiful sight I have before me, he was only pretending to be gay. Which got me into quite a lot of trouble. In I’m still on probation, I’ll be on probation for about another six weeks.

But anyway, I wrote a song about that particular incident which was all about cruising, in case you hadn’t guessed. And I’d love to have played that for you here tonight. But again, even though it was .. actually it was the biggest radio record I’d had since the days of Wham! but somehow, America decided not to touch it. So I mean, you can draw your own conclusions from all this.

And I’m sorry for boring you with it all. But I think the reason I had to do it was because a lot of the press and media in this country, and actually, unfortunately even the gay press in this country – some of them – seem to think that I have no career anymore and that I’m here tonight to exploit the last remaining George Michael fans there are.

Which actually is complete bullshit, because I’m here to say thank you. And to tell you that I know that even though I’ve not been on the radio for the last nine years in the States, there are so many people in this stadium tonight that have stuck by me and I really love them for that!

I thank you with all my heart!

- George Michael