Kenny Chesney is spending his summer as usual — touring. And also as usual, his roadwork has made him one of the year’s top-grossing concert performers.
The Road and the Radio tour is taking him to amphitheaters and arenas throughout the U.S., but he has expanded the show for several stadium dates that have also featured other well-known acts such as Gretchen Wilson, Big & Rich, Dierks Bentley, Carrie Underwood and Little Big Town. Ticket sales for his July 16 show at Gillette Stadium near Boston surpassed $4 million to become the highest-grossing country concert in history. Chesney’s upcoming schedule includes an Aug. 26 appearance at Ford Field in Detroit and a Sept. 2 stop at Bridgeview Stadium in Chicago.
CMT Insider‘s Katie Cook spoke to Chesney while he was preparing for his recent show in Nashville, where more than 47,000 fans showed up at LP Field, home of the Tennessee Titans football team.
“I’ve lived here for several years, since the early ’90s, and I actually played this stadium once before with George Strait,” he told Cook. “I remember doing an interview before that show and somebody asked me, ‘What are your dreams? What do you want to do?’” Even though he replied that he would eventually like to headline a concert at the stadium, Chesney admitted to Cook, “That was almost as a joke.”
In the CMT Insider interview, Chesney talked about what it’s like to perform in front of almost 50,000 people, the live CD that will be released later this year and his compulsion to check his e-mail.
Cook: Do you feel like you have to adjust your energy or the performance to match this huge crowd at a stadium?
Chesney: We definitely have to step it up a little bit. Over the years, I’ve gotten really comfortable being on stage and being able to really feel like I can have 15,000 or 20,000 people move this way if I want them to move this way or move that way if I want them to move that way. But when you get in front of 45,000, it’s a little different. You really have to pay close attention to be able to connect with these people.
That’s the key. If they leave not being connected with, then there’s no use in doing this kind of thing, and that’s the biggest struggle. I shouldn’t say struggle, but that’s the biggest hurdle for me as far as being sure that people way up there have a good time — just like these people down here in the pit. And it’s a lot of space to cover, but it’s good space. I love it.
It’s got to sometimes look just like a sea of people. Can you make out many details?
Yeah, I can, but you know what? When I’m on stage, I see signs that people have made, but I can’t see what [they say] because I have horrible eyesight. Really I do. I mean, it’s crazy. I can see if the stadium is full or the arenas are full, but once it’s past about 20 or 30 feet, I can’t see a thing. I can’t see what they look like. I can’t see what the signs say. I just acknowledge it and go, “Thank you so much.” I don’t want to break anybody’s heart or anything. I can’t help it. I don’t wear contacts.”
I see laser surgery in your future.
You sure do. I’m scared to death of it, though.
Do you find that each audience and each city has a different personality?
That’s a good question. I used to have this preconceived notion that people in the Northwest and the people in the Northeast really wouldn’t like what I do. But this year, we played Seattle’s football stadium and had close to 50,000 people there. We have over 50,000 when we play the Patriots football stadium. … Every place that we go to now, thank God, is really ready to have a great time. … So that’s a great way to live your life out here, and we’re having a blast doing it. So right now, everybody — every city — is awesome.
Most people can only dream what it’s like to stand in front of a crowd this big. The night before, do you actually have dreams about these shows?
I don’t get nervous even with a crowd like this, but I get anxious. And especially in these stadium shows because we have to be here the day before. We rehearse the night before, and we’ll do half the show with literally nobody in the seats. And then we’ll go back to the bus, and I’ll go to bed, and I’ll sit there and think about that. I won’t dream about it, but I will lay in bed at night and not be able to sleep because of it.
So no dreams of accidentally show up naked?
No, not really. (laughs) What I do in these stadiums — and I do it at every one of them — is that I’ll find the tallest spot in the stadium, the seat the farthest away from where I’ll stand [onstage]. And I’ll just go up there and sit. I’ll reflect on my life, and I’ll reflect on our tour, and I’ll reflect on everybody that has sacrificed a lot to be out here. And I will sit there and see exactly how far I’ve got to go to touch somebody. And that seat is way up there.
You’ve got a live CD coming out this fall of performances that happened over the last five years, right?
That’s a lot to pick from. Let’s talk about a standout moment when you thought, “That’s gotta go on there.”
Last year when did our ABC special in Pittsburgh, that was a really magical night, and I felt like the band was really on, and so there’s a couple of songs from that show. There’s a couple of songs from the Neyland Stadium show that we did at the University of Tennessee. God, was that four years ago? Wow. So there’s a couple of songs from that show and a couple of songs from the Bahamas show we did last March. It’s a mixture of a lot of different things. And I think it’s appropriately titled Live Those Songs Again because … the people who have come see us play over the last five or six years, it’s been the most amazing thing to watch that grow and to see them have fun and to see them — at least for a couple of hours — forget about what’s bothering them and let us be a part of their summer in a small way. And we tried to capture that. … I know I didn’t capture all of it on this live CD. Which means there might be a volume two one day. (laughs)
People magazine recently ran a great photo of you on your computer on the bus. It looks like you’re answering e-mails. Do you spend a lot of time on the computer?
I do. The worst thing ever invented is wireless Internet because I’m all the time looking and e-mailing. (laughs) Especially when we’re out on the road, I work out every morning, and I’ll do a couple of interviews. Then we’ll play basketball or whatever, but still there’s a lot of time to kill, and there’s only so many movies you can watch and so many days you can sit in the sun waiting for the show. I check my e-mail, I’ll bet you, like 10 times a day.
It’s interesting you ask that because I don’t get on the message boards that much, really, but when people call and they tell me that there’s a sombrero. … Somebody stole a sombrero from backstage last year that was on Marley, the 230-pound blue marlin that we have stuffed in the backstage area. … Well, Sammy Hagar gave me that sombrero, and I put it on there. Somebody stole it, and it was on eBay. So I’m trying to go buy it to get it back, but I got outbidded. Can you believe it? I got outbidded! Ah, screw it. They can have it. I’ll call Sammy and get another one. (laughs)
You’re always one of the hottest touring acts of the year, which means you’re always busy during touring season. If you could take some time off, whose show would you wanna go see?
Who’s show would I wanna go see? Joe Walsh reunited with the James Gang. I want to go see them this year. I want to go see U2. I’ve never seen U2 live. Even though I respect what they do and tried in some ways to learn indirectly from them, I’ve never actually experienced it live. If Bruce Springsteen was touring, I’d go see him again. I’ve never seen AC/DC live. I’d like to go see them. A George Strait show is always good.
You can’t go wrong with that, can you?
No. I love to go to shows, though. I love it. And it’s weird because that’s kind of like how our lives have turned out, and I’ve become friends with a lot of these people. The promoters that work on their tour work on our tour, so we have all of the opportunities in the world to go see shows. But just somehow, I never do. I’m gone all the time, and we’re on the road and in this environment all the time for seven or eight months out of the year. So to actually spend a day off in that environment is, like, I don’t know … I’d just rather get away from it.
You are always so perfectly golden brown. How do you get and maintain the perfect tan?
I’ve tried to stamp out winter.
Winter just doesn’t exist in Kenny Chesney’s life?
No. When it gets cold here in Nashville, it gets dark at 4:30, so I like to be somewhere warm. But, really, when you’re out here all summer, like I say, we play a lot of basketball. I’m outdoors. I love the outdoors.
So, it’s natural.
This isn’t spray anything.
There’s no tanning bed in the back of the tour bus?
There’s no tanning bed in the back of the tour bus. I swore off tanning beds. That’s horrible for you. But, no, I just play a lot of basketball. That’s it. We’re out in the sun a lot. (laughs) I’m sure one day I’ll look like a Rawlings ball glove. But until then, I’m gonna have some fun.