NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - Garth Brooks's offer to perform a benefit concert for Tennessee flood victims has become nine sold-out concerts beginning on Thursday night, and the music star said he was overwhelmed by the response.
Brooks, the all-time best-selling star in country music, will raise at least $4 million for the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee for the nine concerts over six days.
Merchandise sales could raise another $1 million.
Brooks announced in October that he would do one show in Nashville to benefit the foundation. When tickets went on sale November 3, he sold out nine shows in four hours.
"We just said we'll sell tickets as long as we have people wanting them," Brooks said at a preconcert news conference on Thursday.
"I'm very proud to be a part of this. You say things, not knowing what will really happen. Nashville is one of the hardest markets to sell concert tickets. I can't tell you how big this whole thing has gotten and how lucky I feel to be a part of it," he said.
Federal authorities have received 67,760 claims for individual assistance from people across central Tennessee after the devastating flooding last May. Much of downtown Nashville was under water, as was as the nearby Opryland complex and homes and businesses in the surrounding area.
Many families are still displaced while waiting for their homes to be rebuilt or while they seek new housing.
"Our mission was to make sure that people know that Nashville is up and running again; that the hotels and restaurants are open for business," Brooks said.
He promised a full-blown show each night with his band and special guests Karyn Rochelle, Brooks' wife, Trisha Yearwood, and guitar virtuoso and singer-songwriter Steve Wariner.
"Steve kept thanking me and I kept saying, 'No, I'm the one who should be thanking you,'" Brooks said.
"I have seen the very best of people show up to put on these shows," Brooks said.
"One show like we are doing here at Bridgestone Arena would cost $300,000 to $400,000. Nine shows any place would take three million (dollars) to put on. Everyone you see working these nine shows is doing it for free," he said.
Brooks is the best-selling solo musician in U.S. history, having sold more than 128 million albums in his 21-year career. He retired from touring in 2001.
"When we announced the first concert, we told people if ever they were going to see a Garth Brooks show, this was the time to do it. It's very flattering to have people come in to hear our music, but it's more flattering to know they are traveling the miles to come to these shows because we asked them to," he said.
Tickets were sold to fans from across the United States and Canada. There will be two shows on Thursday night, with the other seven performances scheduled for December 17 and December 19 through 22, with two shows on each of the last two nights.
Editing by Andrew Stern and Bob Tourtellotte