Chesney Holds His Head High in Concert Special

If you ever wondered why Kenny Chesney keeps his head down when he first appears onstage at his concerts, it’s not intended as a dramatic way to whip the audience into the frenzy. The truth is: Chesney is holding out for a personal thrill.

Clearly, Chesney is no stranger to frenzied audiences. Even at that, the Luttrell, Tenn., native got the thrill of a lifetime in June when he hit the huge stage in front of more than 60,000 fans at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. The moment is captured on Kenny Chesney: Back Where I Come From, a CMT concert special premiering Friday (Aug. 1) at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Explaining that the anticipation of meeting the audience is one of his favorite moments, Chesney says, “The very first song we do is called ‘Live Those Songs,’ and I come up out of the elevator. … I never look at the crowd at all before I go onstage. I keep my head down … I’m under my cowboy hat … and I’m singing the first couple of lines. I always bring my head up — and that’s the first time I see them.”

Chesney’s emotional payoff from the crowd is evident in the homecoming concert filmed at Neyland Stadium, home to the U.T. Volunteers. As a rabid fan of the football team, Chesney has spent years seeing the stadium from different vantage points.

“I’ve been in this stadium more times than you can count,” he says. “I never thought that I would ever play here, so this is definitely a moment where I can sit back and go, ‘This is as good as it gets.’”

On the concert special, Chesney gets some musical and moral support from friends Kid Rock, Uncle Kracker and former U.T. and current Indianapolis Colt quarterback Peyton Manning. The NFL star recalls that their friendship began unexpectedly several years ago at a Vols game during his junior year.

“We were playing Alabama right here in this stadium,” Manning tells CMT News. “It was a rainy game. You know, something happened — we fumbled or something. I came out on the sideline. I’m kinda angry and upset, and all of a sudden there was this little guy that was kinda in the way, sitting on the bench where all the lineman are supposed to sit. … I’m like, ‘Get this guy out of the way!’ I have no idea who it is at the time because he’s covered in this orange poncho. It turns out it’s Kenny. So the first time we met, basically I yelled at him and cussed him. And we’ve been best friends ever since.”

Kid Rock says his friendship with Chesney began at a post-concert jam session in Detroit during a Tim McGraw tour. Explaining Chesney’s popularity, he says, “It’s pretty simple. I think he’s got some good songs. He’s got a lot of talent. I like to call him the little man with the big voice. You know, you just wonder where that comes from when he opens up his mouth and starts singing.”

Regarding his involvement in the Knoxville concert, Rock says, “Kenny said he was throwing a party and I don’t miss many parties. I thought it would be the right thing to do to come down and support his party.”