Chesney Toasts 25 Million With Reggae and Memories

Superstar Gets Nostalgic at Nashville Industry Party

It takes a lot of work to sell 25 million albums, but Kenny Chesney appeared completely relaxed at his party celebrating the milestone on Tuesday night (Sept. 26) in Nashville.

Guests munched on chicken skewers, sipped rum drinks, sampled seven kinds of desserts and bopped around the room to the rhythms of a reggae band. Colorful beach balls and balloons shaped like tropical fish dangled from the ceiling. Wearing a ball cap, a long-sleeved T-shirt and khaki pants, Chesney didn’t carry himself like a typical superstar. Instead, he humbly recalled the day he heard that RCA label head Joe Galante wanted to sign him to a record deal.

“In 1992, me and [singer-songwriter] David Lowe and some other guys were in a bus we called the Iron Lung because it would leak diesel fumes into our bus. That’s the truth,” he told the audience gathered at the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum. “I remember my manager Dale Morris calling me, and we were playing in Gadsden, Ala., at a bar called the Fuzzy Duck. He told me that Joe wanted to try this, and I made David go up and introduce me as ’recording artist Kenny Chesney’ — even with nobody there!”

He laughed along with the audience, then added, “I mean it. There was nobody there, but I made him do it because I was really proud and I was excited for the opportunity. So I look out here tonight and there are a lot of people — a lot of you all who are in here have been part of this, and it has been amazing.”

Notable guests included: Country Music Hall of Fame members Bill Anderson, George Jones and Alabama’s Randy Owen, along with numerous songwriters, including Mac McAnally, Paul Overstreet, Stephony Smith and Craig Wiseman. Chesney’s mother, sister and uncle also helped him mark the occasion. Representatives from tour sponsor Cruzan Rum presented him with a gigantic hammock built for touring, and concert promoter Louis Messina gave Chesney an on-again/off-again illuminated plaque for selling more than 5 million tickets since their partnership began.

Galante then effusively praised Chesney for bringing new listeners to the format and for his tireless skill as an entertainer dedicated to giving the fans the best concert experience possible. Galante also presented Chesney with a plaque for platinum certification of his latest album, Live: Live Those Songs Again. (Chesney’s live album was just released but has already shipped 1 million copies.) A button on the back of the platinum plaque can be pressed to play the opening bars of his No. 1 hit, “Living in Fast Forward.”

The “hillbilly rock star” (as that song goes) thanked Galante “for not getting the itchy finger too early — and you had every opportunity to.” He also turned nostalgic during his turn at the microphone.

“Today, I left the house, coming here, and I heard Alan Jackson’s song, ’Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow,'” he said. “When I first started playing the clubs in college, he was just starting out. He had that single out, and I used to play that song sitting on a stool in front of a tip jar. It was almost like a full-circle kind of thing. At that moment, driving in here today, I separated myself from everything and reflected on all the people that have sacrificed their lives and invested emotionally and have believed in me and who have been a part of this incredible [journey]. It’s been a long way from Fuzzy Duck, hasn’t it, Dale?”

Chesney continued reminiscing and thanking his longtime friends and associates, concluding with an upbeat message of “Let’s all have a good time!” But as he headed offstage, he was promptly reminded about his parting gifts. A black curtain fell to reveal a wall of gleaming framed plaques commemorating 25 million albums sold, and the plaques were later presented to companies and individuals involved in the music industry.

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