EVANSVILLE, IN (CelebrityAccess) – As the only country artist in Billboard’s Top 10 Touring Acts of the Last 25 Years for the last 14 years, doing a tour of arenas in markets where he got his start shows how much Kenny Chesney is about taking his music to the people. But it’s also been a demi-bucket list return to the intimacy and passion that defines his fan base, the No Shoes Nation (NSN), from the beginning. And as the tour winds down, Evansville, Indiana, proved it’s not the size of the audience, but the heart.
After a solid 60 seconds of cheers following “I Go Back,” it was apparent NSN had come for the music – and they would leave everything they had on the floor of the Ford Center. Almost a decade since his last appearance at the basketball-centric venue, Chesney pulled out rarities, including “The Good Stuff” and “There Goes My Life,” which saw the fans deliver those songs back to the 8-time Entertainer of the Year like a prayer.
“You forget how much power those songs have – until you play them and feel the emotions they pull out of people,” Chesney says. “You can be so quiet you can feel your heartbeat – and hear how palpable those feelings are that people have tucked up in your songs. It takes your breath away.”
The heightened emotionalism didn’t dampen the high spirits. Whether a second chorus of “American Kids” after the song was over, the coming-of-age anthem “Young” or the full-tilt “Big Star” dedicated “to any girls out there who have a dream,” Chesney and his band were bringing it as hard as the audience was throwing it back.
And being so close to the tour end, the pranks and surprises have already started. With a few nights off before their two-night stand at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 6-time Academy of Country Music (ACM), 5-time Country Music Association (CMA) Vocal Group of the Year and Chesney tour vets Old Dominion ambled onstage during the intro to “Save It For A Rainy Day” to surprise the shocked headliner. Laughing at their still-pulling pranks, it’s the first time leader Matthew Ramsey was seen off his cane; he was enjoying the fun as the collected group also threw down a jubilant take on the Eagles “Take It Easy.”
“Nobody pulls one over on me,” Chesney laughed after. “My band and crew can’t keep secrets, but they kept this one! And it was so good seeing those guys, having Matt and Brad (Tursi), who wrote “Save It,” up there with us. It shows what road family means, doesn’t it? They took a night off to prank us!”
Kelsea Ballerini, who’s spent the tour as Chesney’s special guest and performed their CMA and ACM Award-winning “half of my hometown” with him nightly, also received some tour-ending high jinks. Having given long time encore/play-off “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” a break for most of the tour, Chesney put it in for some playful vamping with the young woman who grew up in the same hometown he did for a little bit of karaoke dreams come true.
The christening of Ballerini’s nickname was even more fun, which appeared on a sign that was beamed to the packed arena. Half set-up for the next song, half good-natured teasing of a little sister, Chesney told the crowd how much Ballerini loves tequila – and then told the delighted crowd, “Her nickname is now ‘TeKelsea.’”; to which the young woman laughed and replied, “Well, I guess it’s gonna be a thing now.”
With 28 songs, including a few surprises, Chesney kept the crowd on their feet for over two hours. Unfortunately, what just started is winding down for the man who usually spends his summers in NFL stadiums nationwide.
Presented by Blue Chair Bay Rum, Chesney heads to Charleston, SC, then Orange Beach, AL. That final show at the Wharf is now double, with tickets for Friday going on-sale Monday (May 22) at 10 am local time.