Kenny Chesney brought his Trip Around the Sun tour to the Valley of the Sun on Saturday night, June 23, and was greeted at Chase Field with a packed house of screaming fans. The current first-place Arizona Diamondbacks conceded their home field for the night to the four-time ACM Entertainer of the Year, and he set up shop with a massive stage spanning the entire outfield.
Chesney charged out wearing his vintage tank top and cowboy hat, and delivered a high-energy set that showcased his laid-back and feel-good persona. By leading off with “Beer in Mexico,” he properly delivered the message to fans that the night was going to be about cutting loose from the grind of daily life. He invited everyone to have another beer with him, and not worry about where they’re going.
After thanking the crowd for all the love, and promising to give it back, “even if it takes all night,” Chesney removed the guitar from his shoulder so he could get his hips into the performance of anthems like “Summertime” and “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem.”
Kenny Chesney is a pioneer for much of the country music heard on the radio today. When he arrived on the country music mainstage in the mid-'90s, the genre was defined by the sounds of artists like George Strait, Chris LeDoux, and Garth Brooks. Early in his career, Chesney attempted to fit into the popular style of the times with albums like In My Wildest Dreams and All I Need to Know, but he eventually found his own groove, and traded in the traditional Stetson hat and cowboy boots for tank tops and flip-flops.
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All of the older songs that gained Chesney early popularity have now been cut from his live performances. Instead, he lives within the comfort zone of music that is most closely associated with his branded image of living life in a carefree state of mind, and partying with friends on a boat in the summer. The earliest songs in his setlist on Saturday night came from the 1999 album Everywhere We Go with “How Forever Feels” and “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.” Not a single note was heard from any of the music off his first four studio albums, which hold more traditional country songs like “Back Where I Come From” and “She’s Got It All.”
Country music is special with its history among performers. The lineage between generations of artists, and the evolution of the music, is akin to any family tree. So while Chesney’s peers from the '90s represented an evolutionary progression in the music from the previous generation of Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard, Chesney found himself somewhere in between.
Around the time “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” was released, Chesney shifted the focus of his music away from conventional country narratives, and doubled down on the idea that relaxing on a beach with an import beer exemplified a country-boy lifestyle as much as line dancing at a local honky-tonk.
The then-unconventional style worked, a die-hard fan base (later nicknamed the No Shoes Nation) took root, and Chesney has shown platinum-selling staying power for two-and-a-half decades. His rise to the level of an arena performer was carved from a different path than his peers, and he represents the necessary bridge to understand the evolution of the genre from traditional performers like Strait into the modern, more pop-infused, country music sound of Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line.
Audience members at Saturday’s show didn’t even have to wait for Chesney to come on stage to see how he has changed the country music concert landscape. Instead of country music radio on the speakers in between performances, while stagehands set up for the next musician, the majority of the music could be heard on a local pop or hip-hop station.
“I believe in my heart that music brings people together like nothing else we have,” Chesney told the audience partway through his performance. By embracing that idea, he brought together legions of country music fans in Phoenix on Saturday night with the sole purpose of hearing his musical take on life and love.
The overall driving theme of the entire tour was inclusivity. Whether he was playing the new single “Get Along,” from his upcoming album Songs for the Saints, about everyone needing to … well, get along, interacting with the audience on all sides of the stage, introducing his band, which includes two performers from Phoenix, or bringing other artists out to perform with him, Chesney is all about the communal love.
His collaboration highlights on the evening included opening acts Old Dominion and Thomas Rhett (who brought his father, Rhett Akins, out for a duet during his own performance) joining Chesney on stage to sing “Save It for a Rainy Day” and “When the Sun Goes Down,” respectively. Plus, there was a surprise appearance by country music veteran David Lee Murphy toward the end of the evening.
Together, Chesney and Murphy played their new No. 1 single “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” before Murphy cut loose with a pair of his own hits, “Dust on the Bottle” and “Party Crowd.”
A party crowd it certainly was, as the audience loudly devoured every minute of the night. Chesney kept the party going from start to finish by never dropping the energy or the tempo of his performance — even if that meant he had to cut popular slower ballads like “There Goes My Life” and “The Good Stuff” out of his song lineup.
Last Night: Kenny Chesney’s Trip Around the Sun tour at Chase Field.
The Crowd: A diverse group of country music enthusiasts of all ages. Most dressed like they were at a beach resort.
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Overheard in the Crowd: “I should have brought my daughter with me” from a lady who had bypassed security, and made her way down to the field level from her seats “way the hell in the back,” as she described it.
Random Notebook Dump: Thomas Rhett has cut his teeth on these arena tours with Kenny Chesney, and the guy is ready to handle the big spotlight on his own. His performance was very professional, and I probably saw more Rhett T-shirts than Chesney T-shirts at this show.
Second Random Notebook Dump: If the Arizona Diamondbacks go on a losing streak at home, they should blame Kenny Chesney for trampling the outfield.
Beer in Mexico
Til it’s Gone
No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem
Somewhere With You
I Go Back
Anything but Mine
Save It for a Rainy Day (with Old Dominion)
When the Sun Goes Down (with Thomas Rhett)
All the Pretty Girls
Living in Fast Forward
Setting the World on Fire
Everything’s Gonna Be Alright (with David Lee Murphy)
Dust on the Bottle (with David Lee Murphy)
Party Crowd (with David Lee Murphy)
How Forever Feels
She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy