I’ll spare you any misdirection: I know about as much about Kenny Chesney — the country titan who packed Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday night — as he knows about me. I’ve heard “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy,” which I think is wonderful. That’s about it. I certainly haven’t been down with the Nashville demigod since “Grandpa Told Me So,” the third single off 1995’s All I Need to Know. (See, I can Google.) But that doesn’t mean I can’t recognize and appreciate talent and showmanship, stuff the indefatigable 50-year-old’s got in infinite supply.
While I’ve not quite been naturalized into “No Shoes Nation,” the collective term for Chesney’s fanbase, I had a nice little stay on my tourist visa, soaking it in as his (mostly shod) subjects freaked out for close to two straight hours. My takeaway: Chesney is both an infinitely skilled performer and an elite panderer, and his audience loves him for it.
Based on my staunchly scientific analysis of his album covers, I’ve gathered that Chesney started off his career as a relatively traditional Tennessee troubadour. Sometime in the early to mid-aughts, however, he got hot, transitioned to an exclusively sleeveless wardrobe and pivoted his sound to something a bit more island-adjacent.
This Buffett-esque direction — Chesney is a huge Jimmy guy, and they’ve recorded songs together — was well-represented in the tuned-up “Trip Around the Sun Tour” crowd, where folks in colorful leis, aloha shirts and Party City grass skirts threatened to outstrip those sporting studded boots, jean shorts and cowboy hats.
A brief video intro featured Chesney screaming platitudes in an Eagles helmet, along with some gratuitous label shots of Blue Chair Bay, his own Caribbean rum brand. After brief recorded cameos from Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matthew McConaughey and (of all people) Dick Vitale, the man himself stormed the stage, pleasing all the Sandals Resorts people off the bat as his incredible band threw out the first notes of his 2007 hit “Beer in Mexico.”
Chesney, who prowled the T-shaped platform extending from main stage in a gray tank top, blue jeans and straw hat, is slight in stature but built like a Brazilian jiu-jitsu champion, a tightly coiled pogo stick of boundless energy that really kept people on their feet. His well-timed chatter helped with that, too: Chesney brought the Super Bowl up so many times over the course of the evening that it almost seemed as if I were seeing my father-in-law in concert.
“All day, all year, all summer, I’ve been looking forward to this moment, to feel this connection,” Chesney raved to his Philly faithful. “People ask me why I keep coming. You work hard. You love sports!”
“He’s reading my horoscope!” my friend Lou, an actual Chesney fan who came with me to the show, proclaimed.
“We will try our best to make love to every single one of you tonight!” Chesney continued.
While I personally haven’t come across any astrological material that makes that type of promise, Chesney was not misrepresenting his intentions, judging by the thunderous response to such songs as “Summertime,” “Anything But Mine” and “Living in Fast Forward” — a slight sampling of numerous number-one country chart hits that Chesney used to build out his 20-plus song set list. At one point, he invited singer-songwriter David Lee Murphy out on stage for a mini-set, featuring Murphy’s old hit “Dust on the Bottle” as well as “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” a brand-new collaboration between the two.
For the catchy “Save It for a Rainy Day,” Chesney brought out tour mates Matthew Ramsey and Brad Tursi, the Old Dominion musicians who actually wrote the song for him. Ramsey drew some extra cheers by throwing on a ’70s-era burgundy Phillies cap for this performance, a shameless-but-appreciated move that several other Trip Around the Sunners also pulled. Thomas Rhett, who also opened for Chesney, wore a throwback Randall Cunningham jersey for the duration of his set, while his drummer Chris Kimmerer rocked a Flyers shirt; Chesney’s bassist, Harmoni Kelley, opted for an Eagles tee.
The Philly sports praise extended far past mere apparel for Chesney, who knows exactly which side his bread is buttered on. After singing his 2010 song “The Boys of Fall,” a schmaltzy paean to the importance of high school football, he announced that the Linc’s resident organization had donated $25,000 to his Love for Love City Foundation, which provides disaster relief for Caribbean communities affected by Hurricane Irma.
With that, a cheese-grinning Jeffrey Lurie appeared on stage, the stadium shaking as he hoisted the fingerprint-smudged Lombardi Trophy as high as he could, as a gaggle of Eagles, including coach Doug Pederson and a spry-looking Carson Wentz, mingled with Chesney and his band. The frontman got his turn with the hardware, too.
It was a logical play to further distance himself from the last time he played this same song here and got some athletes involved — five years back to the day, when former wideout Riley Cooper was taped in the crowd using an ugly racial slur, an incident the singer publicly condemned. That seems like a long time ago at this point, something Chesney, as well as the world champs, are likely thankful for.
Much to this neophyte’s delight, Chesney closed out with “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy,” still my favorite song of his, washing over the writhing pit in a blanket of lights set to Eagles green. In another city, this would have been been the absolute high point of the show. Chesney, who knows what people want and gives it to them, did Philly one better.