PANAMA CITY, Fla. — In a sea of bronzed and buff spring breakers setting out to blow off a little steam, Kenny Chesney blended in perfectly with the beach crowd during a free concert at the Spinnaker Beach Club and Paradise Grill here Wednesday night (March 12).
While most artists spend their time off the road, well, off the road, Chesney has once again embarked on a sort of no-rules, no-agenda warmup he calls his Keg in the Closet tour. In addition to the stop in Panama City, his club dates include an appearance in Key West, Fla., on March 15.
Whispers about Chesney’s show in Panama City began weeks ago, but right up until the moment that he took the stage, there was nothing officially confirmed about the 4 p.m. performance.
That’s exactly how Chesney wanted it. Unlike major tour and record promotion, this wasn’t meant to be a label deal or a radio guy schmooze fest. This time around, it was simply about bringing the music to his fans.
Being the notorious tailgaters they are, Chesney’s fans began lining up outside the venue and claiming their space on the beach behind the club even before noon hit. Onlookers who couldn’t get up close and personal (due to the sheer volume of the crowd) eventually invaded the nearby condo balconies and displayed their affection for the superstar with signs and banners.
Before long and without too much ado, the man who had become the buzz of the beach appeared before the crowd of more than 3,000. Decked out in khaki shorts, ball cap and blue T-shirt (sleeveless, of course), Chesney joined his seven-piece band onstage for his “surprise” performance. He kicked things off appropriately with “Keg in the Closet” and rolled into “Beer in Mexico.” Chesney’s song list included one spring break anthem after another including “Young,” “Living in Fast Forward” and “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems.” He even borrowed buddy Tim McGraw’s “I Like It, I Love It,” tunes from David Allan Coe and Jimmy Buffett, along with Tom Petty’s “Last Dance With Mary Jane.”
Chesney used the carefree atmosphere to take the opportunity to share the spotlight (courtesy of the Florida sun) and let bandmate Tim Hensley takes the reigns for a couple of songs. In January, Hensley released Long Monday, a bluegrass album Chesney produced.
Chesney left the fancy stage, special effects and video screens back in Tennessee, acknowledging that the Keg in the Closet shows differ greatly from the over-the-top productions of his stadium and amphitheater tours. Performing until sunset, he used the nearly three-hour show to prove that all he needs to keep a crowd on its feet and in the palm of his hand was his arsenal of hit songs and the ability to belt them out. Taking requests, joking, laughing with the crowd and singing songs he frequently said he wasn’t sure he knew all the words to, Wednesday’s concert felt more like a gathering of old friends.
Keeping it simple on these special appearances, Chesney is traveling light with only four tour buses, as opposed to the massive convoy of trucks and buses that typically follows him on his usual tours. All that will change on April 18 when his Poets & Pirates tour kicks off with special guest LeAnn Rimes. In addition to the usual amphitheaters and arenas, the tour includes a dozen or so stadium dates boasting a varying array of guests including Luke Bryan, Brooks & Dunn, Keith Urban, Gary Allan and Sammy Hagar.