“We’re going to have an entire summer here in Louisville tonight,” Kenny Chesney told the sold-out crowd at the KFC Yum! Center three songs into his two hour set. With triple guitars blazing and the crowd dressed in flannel, No Shoes, No Shirts, No Problems Tour t-shirts, embroidered shorts, combat boots and sundresses, it was a night to get loud, to let go and to celebrate the collective joy of being alive.
Having made the decision to take it inside – and take his music to the people who don’t live near the stadiums he dominates most summers – there ultimately was very little reduction in sonic thrust, energy onstage and the quality of production. Whether earning a 60 second ovation early in the set for “I Go Back,” which he introduced by saying, “I wrote a song about what stamped me as a kid and kept me on this path,” or throwing the “woohoo” on “Young” straight to the crowd, the eight-time Entertainer of the Year went out of his way to not just connect, but to make sure the people at the farthest points from the stage were pulled in.
Not that the audience of 16,047 needed much coaxing; they carried the songs right along with the man The Los Angeles Times crowned “The People’s Superstar.” Earlier this week, his production team worked to move the sight lines to create an extra thousand seats to accommodate the demand for the opening night of the Songs for the Saints 2019 Tour, sponsored by Blue Chair Bay Rum.
From the moment the music surged and the waves of “Beer In Mexico” crashed over the capacity crowd, it was all music with a strong sense of momentum. Twelve of the 23 songs come from the modern era of Chesney’s career, offering fresh music including “American Kids,” “Pirate Flag,” “All The Pretty Girls,” CMA Vocal Event of the Year “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” with David Lee Murphy, “Til It’s Gone” and “Get Along.” In addition, he mined every previous era of his career from “How Forever Feels,” and “Summertime” to “Living In Fast Forward” and “When the Sun Goes Down,” featuring a special introduction of Louisville’s own Jill Trunnell, a longtime Chesney team member.
“Louisville, Kentucky,” the clearly delighted songwriter/superstar told the assembled No Shoes Nation, “you guys are setting a standard for all the shows this year.”
After playing 19 major stadium concerts, breaking 11 records and playing to over 1.3 million members of No Shoes Nation last summer, Kenny Chesney may have chosen smaller venues, but there’s nothing small about the energy coming off the stage. After a blazing “Big Star,” the man The Wall Street Journal called “The King of the Road” left the stage to deafening cheers. After a full minute, the transistor frequency intro of “Anything But Mine” began, and the room was alight with what appeared to be a blanket of fireflies. Seeing the room ablaze with cell phones and lighters, he delivered the yearning ballad before adding an acoustic guitar as the band kicked into his signature “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.” Giving the guitar to a young boy, it was a night of triumph for the East Tennessean.
The New York Times recognized that power, offering, “Everything country learned from arena rock is in the mix…the music gives him heroic, wide-open spaces,” while The Cleveland Plain Dealer offered, “Chesney makes you feel better, better about yourself, better about life,” and Variety praised him as “Country Music’s only true long-term stadium act.”
“It’s a much smaller stage, but it’s really what you do with it,” the only country act on Billboard’s Top 10 Touring Acts of the Last 25 Years raved after the show. “The Louisville energy was so intense, so hardcore, it was almost like being in a stadium. They came to have fun, to sing, dance, ride the moment – and they sure did. They really fired me up for what’s ahead.”