LP Field, Nashville (Saturday, July 5)
Only one guy has mounted a full tour of outdoor stadiums during this economically shaky summer, and that lone figure, Kenny Chesney, brought his show to Nashville's NFL stadium Saturday in what gave about 45,000 fans a lot of bang for their bucks.
Between Chesney's 20-plus songs and a string of lead-in acts -- Keith Urban, Sammy Hagar, LeAnn Rimes and Gary Allan -- the crowd got a veritable radio playlist: 50 hits, performed by the artists associated with them, in a little more than seven hours. That's right: 50 hits. Plus, of course, a few stray covers.
Chesney, who made several references to growing up in small-town East Tennessee, is still close enough to his blue-collar roots that he seems to empathize with his audience, which might explain a tenacity about giving them something for the money. He's not country's greatest pure singer -- his vocal tone is often brittle, his range is limited and he's not particularly expressive -- but he's decent enough and knows a big, sing-along hook when he hears it.
With a four-piece horn section -- led by Wrecking Crew saxman Jim Horn -- augmenting his band, Chesney also employed a runway system that gave him a central route into the middle of the stadium's floor, allowing many more people to get near him and for Chesney to see the faces of a large part of his audience.
As he has on most of his stadium shows, Chesney also trotted out a celebrity with local ties, bringing on Jennifer Nettles of the country duo Sugarland to belt out "Stay," the powerful story of a love triangle that recently won the Academy of Country Music's single record and song of the year awards.
Nettles proved a bit essential because the one major flaw in what's mostly an engaging show is the sense of sameness that prevailed: too many songs of similar feel and message, too little divergence in sound within Chesney's set.
Each act seemed to stake out some territory of its own: Urban offered shiny, happy pop-country; Hagar was loud and absurd; Rimes took a sexy, playful stance; and Allan cast a dark mood over his 11 songs.
Despite the lack of variety in Chesney's set, there likely were few complaints. A stadium requires bigness; 50 hits in one show -- that's big.