PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. -- Take white sand beaches cluttered with sun-hungry college students, throw in a country mega-star and you've got yourself spring break in the Florida Panhandle. A man of his word, Kenny Chesney delivered on the promise he made one year ago and returned to Spinnaker Beach Club on Wednesday afternoon (March 11) for an all-out performance.
Photo Credit: Melissa Loncaric Miller
Spinnaker's beachside deck played host to Chesney's thousands of swimsuit-clad fans. The free-of-charge outdoor bonanza began at 3:30 p.m. and lasted about three hours. It was the latest in a series of club gigs he refers to as his Keg in the Closet tour. He appeared Saturday (March 7) at the Jupiter Bar and Grill in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Monday (March 9) at Nashville's Exit/In. The informal tour, which is reportedly heading to the Florida Keys for a show later this week, is in advance of his Sun City Carnival tour, a big-stage, big-screen production that kicks off April 17 with Miranda Lambert and Lady Antebellum.
Unlike last year, when word got out a week or two before the Panama City Beach performance and rumors began to swirl that Chesney would be arriving at the show via helicopter, speedboat and/or jet ski, radio stations and newspapers began promoting this year's appearance on the morning of the show. For a second year, though, folks began piling into the club and its outside decks hours before performance time, filling to capacity before Chesney even took the stage.
The Keg in the Closet tour is becoming a tradition for locals and visitors alike. Phil and Kathy Bloomfield make the excursion from out of state every season to visit with family and were here for Chensey's initial performance last March. Bloomfield says, "We've never seen him [on his regular tour], but we've been dying to since we saw him here last year. This is great, though. You just can't beat this."
Getting the crowd warmed up was left to his band. Following their performance of "I Saw Her Standing There" and "The House Is Rockin," Chesney, the quintessential spring-breaker, moseyed out and greeted the sea of tanned (and sunburned) spectators. Wanting to capture that moment, he grabbed a video camera before rolling into "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy."
You'd be hard pressed to find a moment that wasn't being videotaped or photographed during the hit-filled performance. Not only is the fan footage included on screen before and during his tour dates, but the photographs taken while out on the road are also used for a yearbook that's given to the crew at the end of the tour.
Even though Chesney and his band have a 69-song set list to choose from, only the first three songs are planned. "From there, anything goes," said Chesney's soundboard operator.
Rolling out one spring break theme song after another -- "Beer in Mexico," "Living in Fast Forward," "Keg in the Closet" -- you start to get the feeling that those songs were intended to be performed beachside.
"We played here last year, and we've been waiting for this show again for one solid year," Chesney told the audience. "Last year, we played until it was almost dark, and this year, we're gonna play until it's dark again!"
Chesney's ability to relate to his audience -- as just one of the guys -- seems to resonate with his fans. Everybody's favorite everyman truly seemed to be having as much (if not more) fun than the audience.
With a smile on his face and a drink in his hand, he shared his philosophies with the crowd by saying, "Right now, the world is full of problems. ... But us ... today, right now ... we ain't gotta solve a damn thing!" and "Ain't it great to love music and to be alive today?"
The happy-to-oblige crowd didn't hesitate to join in on the songs, sway when prompted and even pick their ladies up on their shoulders so Chesney could add to his video footage collection.
As if all that weren't enough, he also included an onstage shoulder ride for a young fan and thrilled another fan by signing the recent issue of Playboy containing his interview. He also brought in some special guests, including New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, Mark Collie and Luke Bryan (who had performed the day before at the Spinnaker).
With about an hour left in his set, Chesney said, "Now comes the time where I'm not gonna sign a waiver to back up the quality of the songs from here on out ... but we're gonna have a lot of fun!"
Watching Chesney effortlessly connecting with his fans, it's easy to forget the magnitude of his superstardom -- the millions of albums sold, the ever-growing list of awards and the fact that he can sell out an entire stadium in less than 14 minutes. The fact that he's still doing these small shows during his "off" time proves Chesney really does live those songs.
View photos from Kenny Chesney's show in Panama City Beach, Fla.