Garth Brooks talks to fans and journalists during his keynote at SXSW Festival on March 17, 2017 in Austin, Texas. 

Garth Brooks talks to fans and journalists during his keynote at SXSW Festival on March 17, 2017 in Austin, Texas. 

Buckner/Rex Shutterstock/Zuma Press/TNS

At the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, 11 a.m. is early. Maybe that's why only a few other early birds and I gathered in a large ballroom inside the Austin Convention Center for a Garth Brooks press conference.

It began with a gushing intro by a local country DJ,  then a listen of "Ask Me How I Know," Brooks' newest single from his latest album Gunslinger. And soon, the reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year was welcomed to the stage with an oddly hearty round of applause.

Was this a press conference or a fan club meeting? 

Garth Brooks played a surprise concert at The Broken Spoke in Austin during South by Southwest on Friday March 17, 2017. 

Garth Brooks played a surprise concert at The Broken Spoke in Austin during South by Southwest on Friday March 17, 2017. 

Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP

Between the clapping and the softball questions ("So, Garth, what can we expect from your show tomorrow night?" asked a local TV guy), it didn't feel like anyone in the room wanted anything other than few big grins from the megastar and some basic promotional notes surrounding his surprise, free SXSW Saturday night concert and a new digital streaming partnership with Amazon Music.

For me, the Amazon announcement presented a real opportunity for deeper discussion. And isn't that what journalists do at a press conference?

After Brooks danced around a question about his previous foray into digital music servicing (Ghost Tunes, which folded in 2016), I felt a swell of responsibility to get more out of the most famous digital dodger the music world has ever known.

No other artist with Garth Brooks' credentials has avoided putting his or her catalog up for digital sales for so long. 

The Beatles, Rolling Stones and AC/DC are perhaps the biggest non-Brooks examples of iTunes holdouts, but they each eventually gave in. 

To Brooks' credit, he was candid about how he wasn't willing to change his business ideals to work with Apple. Brooks is the big dog, a role he's enjoyed for decades.

But with the exclusive agreement through Amazon, customers can get wide access to his music, just only in full-album format. That's not a small thing: Brooks continues to go against the entire music industry and also ignores modern customer demand. 

Garth Brooks, right, and the Wall Street Journal's Hannah Karp, center, laugh as Amazon Worldwide Digital Music vice president Steve Boom makes a comment during a keynote conversation during the South by Southwest Music Festival on Friday, March 17, 2017, in Austin. 

Garth Brooks, right, and the Wall Street Journal's Hannah Karp, center, laugh as Amazon Worldwide Digital Music vice president Steve Boom makes a comment during a keynote conversation during the South by Southwest Music Festival on Friday, March 17, 2017, in Austin. 

Jack Plunkett/Invision/AP

If no one else was going to ask about that notable bullet point, I would.

(Now, I'm not some punk millennial music pirate. I can't remember the last time I downloaded a single song; I am a full-album listener -- on digital, vinyl and even when I listen to my $10-a-month Spotify subscription. But I'm not doing my job if I don't ask one of the biggest names in showbusiness why he chooses to wage war on a hill few others seem to be fighting on.)

"Kelly from The Dallas Morning News," I began as Brooks looked my way. "I've read before where you have said that because you're 'a full album kind of guy,' that you will not allow single songs of yours to be downloaded, giving fans only a full-album option. When you have millions of fans who surely prefer buying single downloads, why do you choose to still not offer that to them?"

"So, Kelly, are you married?" asked Brooks as he shuffled on the stage.

I am.

"Do you remember the song you had at your wedding, by any chance?"

I do: My wife and I were married in Las Vegas, and Elvis walked her down the aisle while he sang "Fools Rush In," I told him. Except, shoot, that's not actually what happened: Our Elvis sang "Can't Help Falling in Love" as he walked my bride down the aisle. But hey, I was thrown off a bit by the question being turned on me. And for the record, I regret the error.

Brooks asked the question I saw coming. Was "Fools Rush In" worth more than 99 cents?

Garth Brooks performed at the 2015 Academy of Country Music Awards on April 19, 2015 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. 

Garth Brooks performed at the 2015 Academy of Country Music Awards on April 19, 2015 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. 

Andy Jacobsohn/Staff Photographer

"Emotionally, sure," I said. "But..." 

"That song you just walked down the aisle to with your new wife is worth more than a buck, right?" he asked before I had finished my reply, he's had this conversation before. He continued his answer with an odd example of someone watching only part of a movie and leaving after paying full price, and then he mentioned how songwriters benefit off of royalties from full album sales.

In short, he didn't answer the question. Not by a long shot. He avoided the commercial nature of the question by attempting to appeal to the emotional aspect of music. 

Any music lover will tell you his or her favorite song is more valuable than a single dollar. 

Perhaps he didn't listen to my question in full, or because this is a stance he's made for years, he simply grabbed the easiest paint-by-number answer he could. But fine, let's move on. Or not?

A few minutes later, Brooks answered another question regarding the complex relationship between art and commerce when he referenced the "tension" of our recent interaction.

At the end of the press conference, Brooks he asked if there were "any more questions like Kelly's." I should've re-asked my question, but, I'm actually not a trouble-maker. I think I upset Garth Brooks, though.

Photos: Garth Brooks and his fans take over Dallas

Later, I shot an email to the head of publicity for SXSW. He had invited me to the event, and I wanted to say thanks and to see if he thought my exchange with Brooks was as odd as I thought it was. I asked for a one-on-one interview. Why not?

Soon, Brooks and I sat down to chat, this time without an audience.

It was perfectly congenial, and living up to his reputation, Brooks was warm and full of good humor. We talked about the thriving Texas country scene and how difficult it can be for new artists to make any money.

I asked again about his policy towards single digital downloads, and I stressed to him that it was an important question because of his prominent spot on top of the music world. 

There's gotta be a good story behind these silly Garth Brooks and Lee Brice photos, right?

Thankfully, he avoided the cheesy question of a song's emotional worth, as he only spoke of the songwriters and his desire to make sure they are taken care of financially.

But again, he didn't answer the question. After all, wouldn't selling millions of downloads of a single hit song be great for a songwriter? What about all of these years of not selling a single digital album at all? Wouldn't those quiet heroes have loved to see some Apple money over the past 15 years?

Someone needs to ask him those questions again. Maybe it'll even be me.

I do believe he looks out for those he works closely with, whether they are songwriters or publicists or road crew. Brooks' charm and intelligence can carry him through most interviews and there are plenty of reasons he's a beloved icon of American music.

But I didn't get the answers I wanted.

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