When Leah Waldo saw Garth Brooks glance over at his guitar and smile after he asked her what instrument she played, she had a sneaking feeling. Then when he asked her what kind of music she played and she said country, she — and the audience — knew it was all over.
"Well, Miss Leah, this is what we call being baptized by fire," Brooks said, urging the Arts in Education student to the stage in Askwith Hall, where he and Trisha Yearwood had been fielding questions about their careers, their family life, and their public service. So Waldo, a graduate of Berklee College of Music, did what she had to: She walked on stage and took the guitar.
"I really didn't have a choice at that point," she says. "If Garth Brooks asks you to play a song, you play a song. So I did."
For Waldo, the surprise didn't end there. Before the country music power couple left the Ed School to give two concerts that night at TD Garden in Boston, they posed for pictures with students and staff. When Waldo walked up for her picture, Brooks handed her the guitar, a Takamine that he had been touring with. It was a gift.
"I was absolutely floored. An older musician giving a young musician his guitar is a longstanding tradition in country music, and I felt incredibly honored," she says. "When he gave it to me, my first words were, 'I can't.' Trisha said, 'You HAVE to.'"
Since then, Waldo says she has been playing the guitar nonstop. "It's a beautiful instrument, and it has the gouges in the wood from where Garth played it. It's hard not to feel inspired when I run my fingers along those scratches."