Kenny Chesney Is All Hat and No Saddle

Kenny Chesney seems like a fun guy to hang with. You know, the dude who always has a fresh batch of margaritas chillin' in the blender at his beach pad in the Virgin Islands, a bevy of bikini-clad babes at his beck and call, and enough money to keep the party rolling 24/7.

He's an affable sort, Mr. Chesney, an engaging little fella, topping out at around 5-foot-6, who lost his hair a decade ago but has enough magnetism to fill arenas with fans in flower-print Bermuda shorts and puka shell necklaces — a sea of full-on weekend-warrior types who can, for a couple of shitfaced hours, forget about the cubicles they toil in during the week. And I'm all for it. A beach party? With tiki torches and leis and frozen adult beverages and loud live music?

Sounds like a great time, except for one total end-game buzzkill: Kenny Chesney's music.

I can totally overlook the fact that he's not even a thinly veiled Jimmy Buffett rip-off (these days everybody rips off everybody else) peddling the same brand of tropical clichés. Yes, his escapist shtick is nearly identical to the one perfected by the King of All Parrotheads. My issue: I have a hard time thinking of Kenny Chesney as "country," and since he's played on KNIX and KMLE, he should be country, right?

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously opined in 1964 that he could never define pornography but that he knew it when he saw it. How do you define country music? Or any genre of music, for that matter? It's in the ear of the beholder, but just because somebody emphatically insists that it's country music, does that mean that it really is country music? I guess if you want to define Metallica as country because they have Willie Nelson-esque grooming habits, there's nothing stopping you. Actually, James Hetfield recorded "Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit's Done Got Out of Hand" for a Waylon Jennings tribute album in 2003, so you've got that as evidence. And if you want to define Kenny Chesney as country because he grew up in east Tennessee and wears a cowboy hat, you have every right to do so. And you're not alone in your opinion.

But I just don't hear it as country. And if Chesney's not country, then maybe he's rock 'n' roll, so, hey, cool. Except that if he's rock 'n' roll, he's lame, pasteurized rock 'n' roll. You sure as shit don't hear his stuff on KDKB, so that's a stretch. So maybe he's a genre all to himself, something like "Caribbean country," a puzzling juxtaposition of terms akin to "Dixieland metal" or "Delta techno."

Country radio programmers, though, have defined Chesney as country because the dude is all over country radio, even if tunes like 2008's "Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven" are out-and-out WASP-afarian reggae and last year's "Somewhere with You" sounds like Coldplay featuring The Edge on guitar. So to me, no matter how you carve the Chesney turkey, it is just not country music. I grew up in the deserts in waaay North Phoenix thinking country was "smoky old pool rooms and clear mountain mornings," drinking longnecks and nursing a broken heart and two-steppin' and twangin' on Fridays after work at Peter Bob's Watering Hole on Cave Creek Road. My two sons are growing up in Scottsdale seeing Kenny Chesney on CMT, swaying on a beach with Uncle Kracker, so their definition of country music is totally different from mine. And I can respect that. But I don't have to like it.

I understand it's not 1965 (or even 1995). And the Bakersfield sound is dead (on contemporary radio, at least). And country music has changed and pedal steels are dust-collecting dinosaurs, and genres bleed all over each other these days, and country singers like Chesney and Sugarland and Taylor Swift probably grew up listening to Billy Joel and Journey and not Hank Williams and Merle Haggard.

Hey, I dig Billy Joel and Journey (sorta), but when I want to listen to country music, I don't download a Billy Joel or Journey tune, or even a Bob Marley tune, or a Jimmy Buffett tune. The boundaries of country music have become staggering blurred, to the point where it's sort of like looking at country music with cataracts: You get a fuzzy, murky vision of just what constitutes country music these days. And yet, accepting that, I still can't figure how Kenny Chesney is labeled a country singer. Compared to Chesney, Garth Brooks (whom many blame for the pop-crossover "arena country" movement) sounds like Jimmie Fucking Rodgers.

Chesney has a whole shitload of fans who think his tractor's sexy, and as the saying goes, a million people can't be wrong. Whatever floats your boat and whatever milks your goat and all that. I am sure Kenny Chesney is a nice guy and he's done really well for himself, carving out a nice niche. Life could be worse — it could be like a country song.

 
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13 comments
Ashley
Ashley

i love keeny chesney i looked up to him for 17 years

Ashley
Ashley

i love kenny chesney i love all os his songs i look up to him i looked up to him for 17 years i stell look up to him now

tippiejax
tippiejax

Um, perhaps looking up to the "Manual of Style" would have better suited you.

Nick
Nick

you've obviously never heard most of his music then. i'll sit here and name you songs that have a true country feel and message to them. yes some of his songs are beach themed and what not but thats why he is talented. he has rock, beech songs, and others. he doesn't stick to one sound. you judged him off songs from 2008 and up? thats bull. ever heard oh i dont know.....the tin man, fall in love, all i need to know, grandpa told me so. mind you these are all singles im not just naming random songs off his album that are country but i could do that too. back to country. when i close my eyes, she's got it all, what i need to do, a lot of things different, there goes my life, living in fast forward, down the road. im tired of naming songs ill leave the rest to you. oh and how about back where i come from? i do admit you at least respect him and to each their own, but dont just judge an artist for trying to switch it up. he has different sounds, thats much better than others who play the same crap.

Justin Bates
Justin Bates

That's his point. They don't play 80% of those songs you just listed on the radio, and the ones they do play are about beaches and tractors. This issue is addressed very well in a song by Brian keane called "I'll sing about mine". YouTube it, iTunes, whatever you wanna do. He will put it in perspective.

Nick
Nick

lol did you read that list? she's got it all, living in fast forward, down the road are three number one singles hahaha yeah they dont get played..right. i think country radio makes him into something less country, but dont judge him on his radio play judge the albums ya know. the majority of his albums are good...solid...country soungs and yes country radio as always decides whats a good song and what isnt, there's alota kenny songs i love that no one will ever really hear thanks to country radio.

Judi PIerce
Judi PIerce

I grew up on the older country singers, as my parents listened to them, so I have an appreciation of their type of country music too - I like it all! Kenny is my guy though and always will be. As for "Tractor" - Kenny keep on singin this song! Love it. This is the song that got me listening to Kenny's music, so I will always enjoy hearing it. Country music has a broad spectrum though and there is room for all the singers, both older and younger.

tippiejax
tippiejax

GREAT article. For some of the commenters below, the reason for genres is to preserve a certain history and art form of MUSIC. The point is, don't call Chesney country, because he is not, and don't call yourself a fan of "country music" if you listen to only the likes of Chesney, Swift, ad nauseum baby pop, because you're not. Clearly this writer knows his country, and loves it, so don't get yer panties in a twist because he is calling a spade a spade and don't expect a true lover of country to attend a Chesney concert and just "relax and enjoy it". Give me a dose of Jones, Haggard, Jennings, Owens and hell, even Yoakam anyday!! I am 100% in agreement with this writer, country classification has become a joke.

Cpcksnbks
Cpcksnbks

Brilliant article! That tractor song is the stooopidest song ever written.So many talented country musicians out there but you never hear them because the media machine forces this crap upon us. Well said, sir!

Mariah_dg
Mariah_dg

Geez, lighten up. Music is music, why does it always have to be tied to a specific genre? Bottom line, Kenny concerts are the best time, hands down.

You probably just don't like to have fun...and probably don't know how to for that matter!

Judi PIerce
Judi PIerce

I am a huge Kenny Chesney fan, love his show and his music. I travel to a fair amount of shows on my Kenny summer tours and so I see him sing the same songs over and over again - and you know what - it is a great way to spend an evening. Kenny's songs are a little bit country, rock and roll, and on some songs a little bit of the islands creep in and oh what a great time his audience has. I am not sure what the point of your article is....are you upset because Kenny's show, his songs are not totally country? If so, then I hope you get upset at Taylor Swift too and a lot of the other country singers who have crossed over to other types of music. It isn't fair to focus on Kenny's height - who cares? I had him beside me once and he was nice, quiet and didn't draw any attention to himself and that is way more important than picking on various attributes of Kenny's. I think you need to attend a few more of Kenny's shows and just chill and enjoy the evening and quit counting the country songs or lack thereof and just have fun, like Kenny tells his audience to do - that is the point of his shows, along with seeing a wonderful, talented man perform.

Judi PIerce
Judi PIerce

I am a huge Kenny Chesney fan, love his show and his music. I travel to a fair amount of shows on my Kenny summer tours and so I see him sing the same songs over and over again - and you know what - it is a great way to spend an evening. Kenny's songs are a little bit country, rock and roll, and on some songs a little bit of the islands creep in and oh what a great time his audience has. I am not sure what the point of your article is....are you upset because Kenny's show, his songs are not totally country? If so, then I hope you get upset at Taylor Swift too and a lot of the other country singers who have crossed over to other types of music. It isn't fair to focus on Kenny's height - who cares? I had him beside me once and he was nice, quiet and didn't draw any attention to himself and that is way more important than picking on various attributes of Kenny's. I think you need to attend a few more of Kenny's shows and just chill and enjoy the evening and quit counting the country songs or lack thereof and just have fun, like Kenny tells his audience to do - that is the point of his shows, along with seeing a wonderful, talented man perform.

Grogers
Grogers

whats your point? stupid article.

 

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