Kenny Chesney: CMT Insider Interview (Part Two)

He Discusses Tour With Tim McGraw, Connecting With His Audience

Kenny Chesney is allowing fans a glimpse of his life in his new album, Welcome to the Fishbowl. However he keeps his own line of vision shorter than fans might expect.

“I look at what’s in front of me. I don’t look to the next day — or the next day — because if I do … I’m going to be consumed by it,” he told CMT Insider host Katie Cook prior to his concert in Tampa, Fla., earlier this month. “But here, for the next little while, I just look at that day and say, ’OK, bring it on.’ And I do feed off the challenge of that.”

In the second of this two-part interview, Chesney visits with Cook about his stadium tour with Tim McGraw and his mysterious talent for connecting with a crowd.

CMT: Do you feel like having Tim out on the road with you will help shake things up?

Chesney: Oh, no doubt about it. The fact that Tim is doing this in the first place is special. He didn’t have to do it, but he did. And that says a lot for him. … Tim and I have been down separate roads, we’ve been down parallel roads. And to see all that come together in one spot after all these years, I think that’s special.

When did you guys start talking about actually doing this tour together?

It was last summer, and I talked to Tim about doing just one stadium show with us. He said yes, and then we went. ’Well, if we’re going to do one, let’s do two.’ Then we went, ’Well, OK, if we’re going to do two, let’s do eight.’ … Next thing you know, we have several months together. And that’s how it happened, very organically. It wasn’t like we’ve been planning it for years. The idea’s always been there, but I think it was the right timing for both of us to do it.

There’s a great promotional picture of you guys just laughing. You look so comfortable with each other.

There is chemistry there. That’s not fake. That is years of friendship. The title of the tour is Brothers of the Sun, and in ways I do look at McGraw like he’s a brother I never had. So he’s family. But you can’t be family and not have ups and downs in your life, you know what I mean? That’s just the way it is. And I think the fans are going to see that our relationship and friendship is very authentic and the chemistry is very authentic.

And that’s what you see in that picture of us onstage together. We were very happy to be there. There is this indefinable chemistry up there. You can’t just put two acts together to do a duet and then say, ’Oh, wouldn’t it be great if they toured together?’ And they don’t even really know each other, but they’re doing it. And that’s made up, that’s fabricated, smoke and mirrors. Fans are smarter than that, so I think that’s why it works.

You typically alternate between amphitheaters and stadiums, but this time, it’s all stadiums. Does that eliminate some of the stress?

It does because we’re only doing 20-something shows this year, a third of what we usually do. We’re doing all stadium shows this summer which has been easier mentally on the crew and everybody involved because we’re just preparing for one set-up, for one environment. Now when you’ve got trucks out here that are rolling down the road, and you’ve got to set up a different environment on different days. That’s a lot to keep up with. Thank God, I’ve got those guys to keep up with that because I couldn’t do that.

Most of us will never know what it’s like to stand on a stage and hold 60,000 people in the palm of your hand. How do you do it?

I don’t know. I get asked that question all the time. When I’m not up here, I feel completely removed from that person that’s up there, if that makes any sense. … You can’t get up there now and do what we do without a little bit of ego, without a little bit of this edge that you have. And you gotta know deep down in your heart and soul that you can do that and that you’re good at it to do it at this level. But I’m not that person away from there. I leave that guy up there, you know? And I’m looking forward to saying hi to that guy again. I like that guy. But I think that when people ask me how I do that, I don’t know.

Do you think it’s something you’re born with? Or that you’ve learned?

You can teach someone technically how to sing good. You can teach somebody how to play guitar great, but you can’t teach someone to make somebody care or to make them connect with somebody. We’ve just been able to do it. I’ve been able to do it. The best way I can describe it to you is … my friend Drew Brees that plays for the Saints, right? He’s a great guy and has no ego really. But when he’s got that football helmet on and he’s on the field, he wants to kill you. But that’s two different people. He has no ego off the field, no cockiness at all, but you get up there and (snaps) it changes. But there is something. … How do I say this? There is an indefinable voice inside of them that pushes them in ways that doesn’t push other people. And that’s the best way [to describe] what happens to me.

Do you remember the first time you felt that? When you realized you could do this on this on such a grand scale?

Yeah. It wasn’t a football stadium. I think it was Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., and it was my first year of headlining in 2002. And it was just different. Now, I’d already been on the road nine years at that time, and I remember thinking that night onstage, “Oh, my God, this is happening. Everything we worked for is happening.” … It took me a while to take it all in. But me and the guys are pretty comfortable walking up here and doing what we do now. And at the same time, not taking it for granted.

Read the first part of CMT Insider’s interview with Kenny Chesney.