Just how much Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban contributed to global warming with the eight-hour concert they headlined Saturday (July 5) at Nashville’s LP Field is open to dispute. But there’s no doubt that the ice was melting faster than usual in the overpriced drinks the 49,000 or so fans sat gulping as they cheered on their favorites.
Of course, the prevailing weather may have had something to do with it. Early in the show, which started at 3:30 p.m., the sun kept popping through the clouds and baking the stadium. Generally, though, the temperature and humidity were ideal for the musical marathon.
In spite of the high-caliber talent that preceded him, including Urban, rocker Sammy Hagar, LeAnn Rimes and Gary Allan, Chesney clearly owned the audience.
Anticipation alone brought the crowd to its feet when it sensed that Chesney was about to make his appearance. And when he did, rising dramatically out of the stage floor, the crowd let out a roar that didn’t dim appreciably until he waved his final goodbye.
It didn’t take long to fathom why Chesney exerts such an appeal. He was a dynamo, working every open inch of the main stage platform and the network of runways that threaded out into the audience.
His band was impressive, too, adroitly seconding his every move and providing him all the sonic momentum his frenetic pacing, striding and running demanded. Besides the standard core of musicians, the group also included a four-man horn section, led by legendary saxophonist Jim Horn, and a steel-drum player to add color to the singer’s tropical-tinged tunes.
In addition to the large screens on either side of the stage that magnified the action, Chesney also employed a giant screen at the back of the stage and another one over the proscenium arch to give the most distant ticketholder a sense of intimacy.
Then there were the songs. Chesney did 21 of them in his just under two-hour set. His hits are well crafted, singable and aimed squarely at those who are feeling the first twitches of mortality and who find more comfort looking backward than forward.
Accordingly, Chesney opened with the nostalgic “Live Those Songs” and peppered his set with such kindred pieces as “I Go Back,” “Don’t Blink,” “Keg in the Closet,” “Back Where I Come From” “Young” and the current “Better as a Memory,” which he described as “one of the most truthful songs I ever recorded.”
For festive relief, there were the likes of “No Shoes, No Shirts, No Problems,” “Wild Ride,” “Summertime,” “How Forever Feels” and “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy,” the show-closer.
Although Chesney matches Garth Brooks for stamina and onstage excitement, Chesney’s songs don’t attract teenagers as Brooks’ gentle, meaning-of-life lyrics do. There were lots of youngsters in the crowd, but the largest contingent seemed to be made up of people from the late 20s to late 40s.
Chesney exhibited immense humility, even as he pranced around like the superstar he’s become. He never let his attention stray from the audience, never engaged his band in those private inside jokes that make everyone else feel slightly excluded. After he had been onstage for an hour, he looked into the crowd and said earnestly, “Just so you know, we’re just getting started, I swear to God.”
Instead of opting for a dramatic exit at the end of his show, Chesney paced every runway, stopping every few feet to lean down, touch a hand and sign caps, T-shirts, photos and other memorabilia. He did this dozens of times after the show had concluded.
About a half hour before he wrapped up the evening, Chesney brought out Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles — to the crowd’s obvious delight. Nettles sang her recent self-penned hit, “Stay,” as her host stood beside her and chipped in an occasional line of harmony. Brief though it was, Nettles performance netted a massive response.
Wearing jeans and a white T-shirt that read, “Someone Went to Florida and All I Got Was This Lousy Shirt,” Urban stormed the stage with “Days Go By.” As the applause washed over him, he grinned as though he’d been let loose in the world’s greatest guitar store.
He followed with his 2001 hit, “Where the Blacktop Ends,” rendering it in a looser and more rhythmically emphatic form than the original recording. He took equal liberties with the euphoric “Who Wouldn’t Wanna Be Me” by drafting his mandolin player to introduce the song by singing the opening lines of John Anderson’s “Swingin’.”
Urban then worked his way through “Stupid Boy” and “I Told You So” (with its cannonading drums) before turning romantic with “You’re My Better Half,” which he dedicated to “my very, very, very pregnant wife,” actress Nicole Kidman. Less than 48 hours later, she delivered their first child together — daughter Sunday Rose Kidman Urban — Monday morning (July 7) at a Nashville hospital.
During the concert, Urban vaulted over the safety barrier and into the front row of the audience to deliver a somewhat shaky version of “You Look Good in My Shirt” as security guards looked on fretfully and fans stretched out to touch him. The final of his 11 songs was “Somebody Like You.”
As usual, Urban’s guitar picking was passionate and stunning. He drummed on the strings, tapped out rhythms on them with a hand-held microphone and scampered down the neck in search of otherworldly squeals.
Hagar’s set, while raunchier than the others, didn’t seem at all out of place with his country peers. He rocked no harder and sang no louder. But it was a marvelous display of energy from a man who’s closing in on his 61st birthday. (By comparison, Chesney, Urban and Allan are 40 and Rimes 26.)
Clad in a red “Cabo Wabo” T-shirt and checked cargo shorts, the tousle-topped rocker capered about the stage. Starting with his 1984 manifesto, “I Can’t Drive 55,” he blazed through a mixture of his own recording and pieces he did later as lead singer for Van Halen.
Many in the crowd sang along with him as he blazed through “There’s Only One Way to Rock,” “Top of the World,” “I Love This Bar” (the Toby Keith hit), “Sam I Am” (for which he wrapped himself in a banner and donned a Cat in the Hat topper), “Heavy Metal” and “Finish What Ya Started.”
Early in his set, Hagar announced, “I don’t like to get drunk before the show. I prefer getting drunk during the show.” On cue, a lissome lady in a bikini wiggled out to where he was standing and served him what appeared to be a margarita or similar tequila derivative.
Appropriately, Hagar concluded his segment with “Mas Tequila.” And once more, the bikini brigade brought out blue-hued drinks, from which he took a few appreciative sips before handing them off to fans.
Rimes was the picture of elegance in her short black dress and cascading blonde locks. One of country music’s true chanteuses, she teased, coaxed and wrung the emotions out of a long string of hits and show favorites, notably “Nothin’ Better to Do,” “Can’t Fight the Moonlight,” “Something’s Gotta Give,” “Big Deal,” “Commitment,” “Family” and her recent “A Good Friend and a Glass of Wine.”
She also paid tribute to Janis Joplin with an ultra-bluesy rendering of George Gershwin’s “Summertime.” Then she bowed out with a cover of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me.”
It was Allan’s misfortune to have to open the show while the sun was still broiling exposed skin and the early arrivals were loading up on snacks and noisily searching for their seats. Even so, he soon had the applause rolling in via such familiars as “Watching Airplanes,” “She’s So California,” “Nothin’ On but the Radio,” “Smoke Rings in the Dark” and “Best I Ever Had.”
Strutting the stage in shades, T-shirt and jeans, the California native kept his talk to a minimum and his cool to the max. He ended his strong 45-minute shift with the exuberant “Drinkin’ Dark Whiskey (Tellin’ White Lies).”