Deciding to take 2014 off from touring surely wasn’t easy for one of the highest-grossing concert artists of the past quarter-century. But in an effort to fully focus on creating his 15th studio album, The Big Revival, that’s just what Kenny Chesney did.
Prior to the album’s September release, he did perform one concert though. And it was a doozy.
With more than 40,000 fans in attendance, the superstar sang 32 songs — which included familiar favorites, along with new tunes — for two and a-half hours during his Flora-Bama-Jama event.
Filmed by Shaun Silva on the Florida-Alabama state line, the one-hour special Kenny Chesney Live From the Flora-Bama will premiere Friday (Nov. 14) at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CMT.
Being able to see the audience’s reaction to new songs from The Big Revival meant a great deal to Chesney. But having them sing the words back to him meant “everything.”
“You never know how your fans are going to respond to something like that,” Chesney said during a recent interview at CMT’s Nashville offices. “All the sweet, wonderful, free-spirited souls that’ve made up No Shoes Nation, they responded beyond my wildest dreams. I mean, there were over 300 boats out there in the ocean and 40,000 people out in the sun all day long just to hear their favorite song.
“It just goes to show you how passionate our fans are, how much they care, why they care. And that music’s really important to them in their life.”
Chesney’s latest album reciprocates that passion.
“Even though it’s hard for me to be still, I was forced to be still, and the creative process was a lot better for me not being on a bus,” he said. “I’ve been able to just take a pause in my life and to feel things. Because when you’re as busy as we are — and as busy as we’ve been — there are life moments that happen to you, and you’re so busy that you might not even know it.”
The impact of such moments influenced Chesney when it came time to head into the studio.
“In the last couple of years, I’ve lost a couple of really good friends of mine, and I think there’s something to be learned from going through all of that,” he said. “You get up every day and try to rattle the cages of your own life and do what they can’t.
“That’s the approach I took to making this record, and it ended up being a theme in this record — to really try to get up every day and live your life to the fullest. The Big Revival isn’t about a big party. I mean, it’s aggressive-sounding and it’s fun-sounding, but it’s not about partying. It’s about living with passion.”
Produced by Chesney and Buddy Cannon, the album includes songwriting credits from Shane McAnally, Rodney Clawson, Luke Laird, David Lee Murphy and Chesney, to name a few, along with vocals from Dan Tyminski and Alison Krauss on “Don’t It” and Grace Potter on “Wild Child.”
In the beginning, choosing which songs would make the final cut proved a challenging task.
“I knew in my head the kind of songs that I wanted to record for this record, but I just wasn’t putting my finger on a lot of them at first,” he admitted. “I edited myself a lot because I didn’t want to repeat myself. I didn’t want to sing about what a lot of people are singing about.”
The music isn’t the only thing that didn’t fit the mold. Straying from the conventional, the school bus featured in the “American Kids” video ultimately found its way to Chesney’s album artwork.
Chesney himself helped paint the bus prior to the video shoot and says the experience was “the most therapeutic thing I’ve ever been a part of in my life. It was so much fun.”
Though it’ll be much more comfortable than the psychedelic one, Chesney’s bus will hit the road again when he kicks off the Big Revival tour on his birthday — March 26.
Dates for his 55-city tour have already been announced, with the star teaming up with Brantley Gilbert, Jake Owen, Cole Swindell and Chase Rice on various dates. He’s also joining forces with Jason Aldean on 10 stadium dates and Eric Church on five.
“I’ve missed the connection with everybody out there,” he said. “And that’s something that I’m looking really forward to in the spring of next year.”