Kenny Chesney Goes Backstage to Discuss Big Win at ACM Awards

The ACM's Two-Time Entertainer of the Year Just Wants to Be Happy

LAS VEGAS — Moments after winning his second entertainer of the year trophy from the Academy of Country Music on Tuesday night (May 23) in Las Vegas, Kenny Chesney breathlessly answered questions from reporters backstage at the MGM Grand.

Here, he talks about what it means to be an entertainer, why he’s proud of Keith Urban and what he hopes to accomplish next.

How is winning this entertainer award different than last year?

It never gets old, man, when you do what I do and have as much fun as we’re having on the road. It seems like every year we turn it up a notch. I don’t know how we keep doing that, but it seems to happen with us onstage and with the crowd, also. To be able to win entertainer of the year for two years in a row, I realize it’s a small list of people who have accomplished that, and I am honored and thrilled to add my name to that short list.

How do you define the term, “entertainer”?

People have asked me that before: “What does it mean when you win entertainer of the year? What does it mean to you?” I do believe that the entertainer of the year is about being one of the guys that brings people in. I have people all the time come to my show and say, “You know what? We really didn’t listen to country music until we heard your record, and now we buy your records — we buy Keith Urban’s records, we buy Brad Paisley’s records — because we like your song.” I think that’s one of the most important things that helps grow the format. I’m proud to be in country music. I can’t sing any other way, you know? But … along with selling a whole lot of tickets and putting on a great show like we try to do every year, I think it’s a little more. You have to grow the format and bring people in and introduce them when they don’t really know a lot about it. I do believe that we’ve been able to do that the last year or two or three or four.

So, how do you bring people in?

The secret to it? I don’t know. I think it’s a connection and a relationship that we have that’s been building over years. It’s hard to put a finger on these things. I know that when I get onstage. It is my job, and I try very hard to make the guys in the last five rows feel as special as the guys in the first five rows. I stay up at night thinking about ways to make my show better. And not to just sing a song to them but to make them feel something and to make them believe … and to go tell people how much fun they had and what it meant for them to be there. The concert, to me, is a shared moment when people come and hear your music. The same people will never be in that arena ever again. If you give those people a great show — along with me and the band and everybody — it’s a shared moment that will never happen again. It’s what I love about playing music live.

A lot of people who won awards tonight benefited from going out as an opening act on your tours. How do you feel about that?

When I first got started, I went out and opened for people that … how do I say this? I’ll try to choose my words correctly here. They didn’t mean a fraction to country music as much as they thought they did. I’m not naming names, but that’s just the way it is. They treated us like crap. And I told my band and my crew and everybody on the bus, “If we ever get to where we are the main attraction, we are not going to do what just happened to us tonight.” I’m very proud of Keith Urban and I’m very proud of Rascal Flatts for winning those awards tonight because those guys are like family. We spent two years on the road together, and I saw those guys more than I did my mom and dad and the people who really are my family. When they win and they give me a hug and say thanks, I know they mean it.

It’s just like what George Strait did for me. He put me in front of a lot of people, and I knew I had to make the most of it. And I tried. Keith and Rascal Flatts and those guys seized the moment. And I’ve had people up there who didn’t, but you can’t make someone want it either.

What’s the next thing you want to accomplish in this business?

You know, I’ve never been one to set goals. Yes, winning entertainer of the year was a goal of mine, but it’s always been about great songs. I still believe there are a lot of great songs to sing. I still believe inside of me, there are a lot of great songs in here to write. I’ve always been a songwriter. That’s how I got into the business. Selling out football stadiums is great. I love it. I really do love it, but I want to keep finding great songs. And more importantly, I was telling the people working with me tonight, I want to be happy. I want to have a good time and enjoy this.

I was thinking about this today. You can ask Reba McEntire. You can ask George Strait or anybody that’s been there. Winning entertainer of the year has an expiration date. Fame has an expiration date, and life has an expiration date. I’m going to try to enjoy everything that’s happened to me. That’s what’s next. I love playing music. I love writing songs. I love getting out front of all those people and what we do. That’s not going to change for us.

Craig Shelburne has been writing for CMT.com since 2002. He is also a producer for CMT Edge, Concrete Country and Live @ CMT.