Life on the Road With Kenny Chesney

He Talks Career Building, Basketball and Breaking Strait's Attendance Record

When his Guitars, Tiki Bars and a Whole Lotta Love tour recently rolled into Lexington, Ky., for another sold-out show, Kenny Chesney visited with journalists to talk about the tour, his fans and life on the road. Courtesy of CMT Radio, here’s an excerpt from that conversation prior to the show at Rupp Arena:

You’re No. 1 on both the singles charts and the albums charts. You’re selling out arenas. Can you explain this success?

No, I can’t explain it. I really can’t put my finger on it. I just know that people are coming to our shows and having a great time. That’s basically the way we’ve approached it the past four or five years. We didn’t wake up this morning, and all this just happened to us. It’s been building and building and building for the past four or five years, and now we’re waking up going “Wow, we have, you know, 20,000 people in Rupp Arena.” It’s really cool, you know? (laughs)

I can’t put my finger on it. I do know that when I go out on stage tonight, just like last night and just like the last couple of years, I’ll be able to see a bunch of people that are not just listening to the songs on the radio, but they’re connecting with the music, and they’re being passionate about the music, about the band, about the atmosphere that our shows have. They’re having a great time from the moment they leave their house to the moment they get back. That’s what has built what we’re experiencing right now.

The audience gets very close to your stage. Why is that important to you?

When I first started in the business, I played all the clubs, and that’s the most intimate you can get really, just having all these people up in your face. We’re just playing in a lot bigger clubs these days, and it’s a really neat feeling to see all those people out there having a great time. If I can touch the guy up there in row X and make him feel as special as the guy in the very first row. … If I can make that guy up there go, “God, this concert is so cool.” … [If] the interaction that I’ve had from the guy in the first row to the last row is the same, it’s worth it.

It’s hard to put my finger on it when I’m up there on stage, because I don’t … turn into this other guy, but in a way I do. I’m not the same Kenny as you’re gonna see sittin’ right here on this bus. I’m a different person for a couple of hours. I’m this guy that people see on TV, and really, I’m just a guy out there playing basketball. (laughs).

How much do you get to goof off on the road?

It’s not really goofing off, but we take this basketball thing pretty seriously. We played best of seven today, played a best of seven series yesterday and the day before. Yesterday, my team won four games out of three, and today we got killed. We got swept today — four games to nothing. But that’s what we do. I get up every morning, and I go work out, and I go run, and I come back and I eat lunch. I do a few interviews, and then we play basketball until about 5 o’clock, and I take a shower and eat and lay down and take a little nap. Now all of a sudden, it’s time to do meet and greet. Time to do a show again. Then all of a sudden, it’s the last night of the tour. (laughs) I swear I do it every single day the same way. … There’s one thing I love about what I do: There’s no two days that are alike. But then again, every day’s the same, but no two days are alike. It’s kind of crazy that way. … We find different ways to goof off, you know, and you never know what that day’s going to bring.

You recently broke George Strait’s attendance record at the Houston Rodeo. Was that something that you ever imagined happening in your career?

Never. No, not at all. We’ve played the rodeo the past three years and had really good crowds, and this year was really different. I mean, it was really loud in there for us. You could tell when we were on stage that my life had changed a little bit as far as those people were concerned. We looked all the way to the very top of that football stadium, and there wasn’t an empty seat to be seen in there. That’s the first time that we’d had that view. … And after it was over they said, “Well, you broke George Strait’s attendance record at the Houston Rodeo. You know, in the whole history of the rodeo, you have the biggest crowd ever.” (laughs) And I went, “Wow.” … Those are things that you don’t think about. You don’t think that would ever happen to you, especially when you first start and you’re just wanting to get your records played. And you just want somebody to hear them, at first.

What have fans done to show their dedication to you?

Well, the tattoos, that’s pretty big. You know that’s your life. (laughs) I don’t know if I would pay to have a face of anybody’s on my body. … I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and tell me they’ve named their kid after me. That’s kind of different, for them to feel that passionate about you to name their kid after you. I can’t tell you how many people have come by and brought one of their girls and said, “My girl’s name is Chesney.” That’s pretty neat.

I was in Texas one time — I may have told this story before — but people do these crazy things. She said, “Will you sign my tattoo?” I said, “Well, sure, I’ll sign your tattoo,” and she pulled her pants down, and her whole ass was a tattoo of the state of Texas. (laughs) We learn something every day about people, don’t we? Anyway, I still love it. (laughs) That’s the damn truth though, I swear.