Eight songs into Kenny Chesney’s no-holds-barred set at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium, the East Tennessee songwriter/superstar finally paused for a moment, ran his hands down the legs of his jeans and told the at-capacity crowd, “I got asked every day, ‘Why Tampa?’ All you gotta’ do is listen to this…” When the shrieking subsided, he then said he was going to play a new song about turning negative energy into positive energy, and launched into “Get Along,” his first single for Blue Chair/Warner Bros. Nashville.
“All I want any time I get on a stage is to turn peoples’ bad days into something great,” says the man The Los Angeles Times deemed “The People’s Superstar,” “and take their great days and make them everything you could ever want. That’s what music does: change the moment, and that’s a big part of why I do what I do.”
For 127 minutes in Tampa, that’s just what Chesney did. With a lean show, twenty-five songs and an audience that started lining up before daybreak, the 8-time Entertainer of the Year embraced new songs (“All The Pretty Girls,” “Get Along”), old favorites (“Don’t Happen Twice,” “How Forever Feels”), mid-career classics (“Young,” “I Go Back,” “Anything But Mine”) and solo acoustics (“You & Tequila,” “Old Blue Chair”) for a show defined by ebullience, electric guitars and Chesney’s irrepressible energy.
Reaching for “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” his duet with David Lee Murphy, Chesney mined pictures from his Love For Love City rescue relief efforts to give people a sense of the devastation and work that’s gone into restoring the US/BVI’s Hurricane Irma relief efforts. Beyond the leveled buildings, island natives and school children, the montage focused on some of the over 1,000 animals rescued.
“Music is medicine, and it’s energy, and it’s fuel,” says the man who will play 19 stadiums this summer. “To me, when music is really firing, it can help you do impossible things, lift you out of unthinkable problems and give you a reason to keep going.”
Using “When The Sun Goes Down” as a way to introduce his band, Chesney lingered on the empty keyboard rig, then explained to the crowd that his musical director Wyatt Beard was in the hospital here having emergency surgery two days prior. Taking the collective energy, he asked the fans “on the count of three” to yell, “We love you, Wyatt!”
Like much of the night, the response was deafening. Beaming, the man who ran from side to side, slid down the strut, brought a special needs child onstage to rock and worked up a full body sweat from the minute the second song came to play. There was no question about his – or the band’s – intention, and the audience gave even better than they got.
“When people come together in the name of music, then let go,” Chesney marvels, “there’s no feeling like it. Listening to the fans sing ‘American Kids’ and ‘Setting the World On Fire’ was a total rush. It’s not the only reason I do this, but it’s a good one.”