LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kenny Chesney played his third show of the Road and the Radio tour at the huge Rupp Arena in Lexington on Saturday (March 25), and it served as a fun reminder that he remains country music’s current king of the road — not to mention the airwaves. When he can seamlessly stick a few lines from “The Good Stuff” in the middle of a medley, it’s perfectly clear that he doesn’t lack for material.
One day shy of his 38th birthday, Chesney asked for just one thing, and it’s the same thing he asks for at every show: That the fans leave behind their problems for a few hours and just have a good time. He definitely seemed refreshed by a few months off the road. From the first song until the end, he took time to shake hands, blow lots of kisses and sign dozens of autographs from the stage.
Chesney wisely kept all of the potential singles from his newest album in the first 20 minutes of his set, thus maintaining the audience’s momentum when he started rolling out hit after hit after hit. He’s especially in top form when singing about nostalgia, on songs like “Back Where I Come From,” “What I Need to Do,” “Who You’d Be Today” and “Young.” He also uses the enormous LCD screen behind him to great effect, whether it’s the flashy graphics on “Big Star” or zooming in on his longtime friends in the band.
Toward the end of the show, he brought out Uncle Kracker to perform their No. 1 hit, “When the Sun Goes Down,” although the rapper stuck around for three more songs — none of them related to Chesney’s career in any way. Kracker also took a swipe at Renee Zellweger — subbing one of the lyrics of “Drift Away” to “Kenny’s wife seems so damn blind.” Chesney laughed it off, but when the song ended, that was the last we saw of Kracker on stage.
Unfortunately, Zellweger appears to be fair game as a target. A woman in the crowd held up a tasteless sign throughout the show that read, “I’m a better lay than Renee.”
The most popular pairings in the enthusiastic audience seemed to be young women (late teens and early 20s) in cowboy hats enjoying a night out. Dierks Bentley, who holds the middle slot on the tour, had to search through the first few rows to find someone old enough to share a beer with. (He has a keg built into a road case, keeping in theme with his song, “Domestic, Light and Cold.”)
Bentley sang for a little less than an hour, covering all his hits, including a bluegrass version of “My Last Name.” He also tagged on a few lines from Buck Owens’ “I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail” as a tribute to the country music star who died earlier that day. By now, Bentley has enough hits to keep the crowd entertained. However, it might be worth investing in something more interesting on stage than a black backdrop with a logo and several racks of extremely high-wattage (and temporarily blinding) strobe lights. Nevertheless, he worked the stage like a pro, and it’s obvious he’s at home there.
That brings us to Sugarland, which is still apparently a duo. Maybe it means nothing, but when Kristian Bush stood right next to Jennifer Nettles in the middle of “Baby Girl” — and I do mean right next to her — she didn’t even glance at him. Toward the end of their set, he shouted into the microphone, “Ladies and gentlemen, Jennifer Nettles!” She didn’t return the favor.
Finally, take one glance at the merchandise table, and you’ll get some idea of how the Sugarland story is progressing. See, you can now buy T-shirts and photos with and without Kristian Bush in them. (The solo shot of Nettles costs $5 more. The one with Bush is an often-seen publicity shot but with former guitarist Kristen Hall erased from the bench. Even if you didn’t know she used to be there, it’s hard to shake the feeling that someone is strangely missing.)
Aside from whatever personal drama may or may not be in the band, Nettles is truly an engaging performer, although 20 minutes really isn’t much time for an artist with a double-platinum album. Who knows how long their career will last? If they’re looking for longevity, though, Chesney is the man who can show them how to achieve it.