Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw made good on the promise of their tour’s name — Brothers of the Sun — Saturday (June 23) at Nashville’s LP Field. The party went on for six and a-half sun-drenched hours inside the football stadium and countless more in the parking lot.
“Believe it or not,” Chesney realized at one point, “this is the first official Saturday night of the summer!”
But before fans were treated to Chesney’s high-octane performance, a more laid-back cowboy took his turn prowling the stage’s long catwalks.
McGraw’s arrival seemed like the beginning of a pro wrestling event, with the star walking out of a tunnel into the sea of fans as his band picked up a groove. He was trailed by cameras for images piped out to large video screens so the whole crowd could see what McGraw saw. The moment he stepped out into the sunlight, a monstrous cheer picked up.
Decked out in tight white jeans, a white T-shirt, black cowboy hat and flashy sunglasses, it was hard to take your eyes off of him.
He walked gracefully around the stage slapping hands and jumped quickly into some older, fan favorites like “Down on the Farm,” “Real Good Man” and “Where the Green Grass Grows,” which immediately drew drinks into the air in celebration but also showed how much McGraw’s style and voice have evolved over the years. There’s a lot of twang in “Down on the Farm” that you won’t always hear in his newer material.
Some of that new material made its way into his set, including two new songs built for carefree fun. The first featured McGraw straddling the musical currents of country and Tejano for “Mexicoma,” while “Truck Yeah” revved up the crowd with its aggressive play on words.
After the sweet serenade of “Just to See You Smile,” McGraw got into the meat of his performance. Relating that the sentiment in that song is important in any relationship, he admitted nobody’s perfect.
“I’ve been an ass a few times myself,” he said. “But you know what? You can still wake up every morning and put your best foot forward.”
That made for a smooth transition into his current single, the reflective “Better Than I Used to Be,” which sits at No. 5 on Billboard’s country songs chart.
But as the last note rang out, he looked over the crowd and announced that since everyone was in Nashville, it was time for something special.
Hushed whispers and a few shrieks of realization grew into an explosion of shouts as the beautiful Faith Hill appeared onstage. Wearing a flowing black and white jumpsuit with her hair pulled up and a radiant smile, she and her husband sang “I Need You” face to face from the middle of the catwalk.
With their eyes locked on each other, they soaked up all the adoration befitting of a royal couple, and walking off the stage, Hill paused for one last moment with the crowd.
“He looks good in white!” she teased.
That earned a laugh from McGraw and a chorus of agreement from the ladies in the audience. McGraw wrapped things up with “Live Like You Were Dying” and left the stage with arms raised, only to be coaxed back out for his own middle-of-the-bill encore that included “The Cowboy in Me” and “I Like It, I Love It.”
After a long break that allowed the sun to fully sink below the horizon, the stadium went dark as a video started on the three large screens. Featuring some of Chesney’s famous friends and footage of the singer during his travels to the world’s most beautiful islands, beach balls started appearing all over the stadium as a countdown reached zero.
As the stage exploded with light and sound, Chesney was elevated to his starting point from beneath a small stage in the middle of the crowd, guitar in hand.
The platform he stood on rotated around as he sang “Beer in Mexico,” and dropping his guitar, he sat down on a zip-line rig that took him over the audience and dropped him off on the main stage.
Chesney always says he spends a lot of time agonizing over the details of his stage, and looming over the stadium like a five-story building with about 15 rows of lights, it’s easy to see why. Each song becomes an event of its own by using those lights in different ways, playing specially-made videos and, most of all, magnifying Chesney’s animated performances.
He always seems to be slinging a new guitar over his shoulder or running from one side of the stage to the other, sweating like crazy while serving up perfect photo opportunities for the fans.
“We haven’t played this city, in this stadium especially, since 2007,” Chesney remarked. “And we missed you!”
He spent a good bit of time talking about the power of songs to transport people to different places and emotions, and saluting Donna Hilley, the Nashville publishing executive who passed away last week, offered up a “hello in heaven” to the woman he said always believed in his songs.
One highlight of the night featured the re-emergence of opener Grace Potter for “You and Tequila,” which the two stars performed alone with acoustic guitars. Earlier in the concert, she had worked the crowd into a bit of a frenzy with her sexy strutting and soaring voice on songs like “Paris (Ooh La La)” and “Never Go Back,” and here she looked and sounded like an angel in a simple white frock. But as Potter turned to leave the stage after the song, Chesney called her back for a surprise.
It seems that a few days earlier was Potter’s birthday, and a high school marching band filed out onstage to lead the whole crowd in “Happy Birthday.” Chesney even had a cake shaped like Potter’s guitar wheeled out.
Then it was on to the bro hugs and football nostalgia of “The Boys of Fall” before Chesney grabbed his drink and left the stage, building anticipation for the night’s big finish.
When the lights flashed back on a few minutes later, he was back singing the first verse of “Feel Like a Rock Star,” the current single he shares with McGraw. McGraw rose up through the floor just like Chesney had earlier to sing his part, and the dream team of country superstars was complete.
After McGraw made his way to the main stage to join his buddy, their chemistry was mesmerizing. The two stars really do seem to have fun together and make a strong duo, even if they sometimes get mixed up about who is supposed to be singing.
They each did one of their first big hits — Chesney’s “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” and McGraw’s “Indian Outlaw” — always trying to get the other guy to chime in for the signature choruses. It was a lot like a big backyard barbecue party with everybody onstage clowning around, tripping over each other and singing wildly to the crowd.
And that’s just the atmosphere the Brothers of the Sun were going for.
As openers Jake Owen — who kicked things off early with “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” — and Potter returned to the stage for one last hurrah, the tanned and tanked crowd slowly departed to the fitting lyrics of Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty.” They’ll refuel and recharge for the next time Chesney rolls through town.