Kenny Chesney's stand-alone encore "Don't Blink" tellingly capped his strong 20-song set Saturday night before a sell-out crowd at Lincoln Financial Field.
After a long program of five acts that began with Lady Antebellum at 4 p.m., the hugely popular country megastar offered 50,000 listeners an observation and a recommendation: Life's fleeting, so keep your eyes open and take it all in.
That thesis of living now and looking back thoughtfully is a recurring theme in many of Chesney's well-tooled hit songs - "There Goes My Life," "I Go Back," and "Back Where I Come From" played Saturday. Perhaps it is the true source of his appeal, far deeper than his good-timey, beachy-cowboy image as a Nashville version of Jimmy Buffett might suggest.
Ascendant country-popsters Sugarland proved the more celebratory act. Earlier in the evening, they presented a winning hour powered by vocalist Jennifer Nettles, who was, hands down, Saturday's best singer. With body english to match, she swayed through a great cover-spree in the middle of their "Everyday America," including the Emotions' "Best of My Love," Madonna's "Holiday," Nelly's "Hot in Herre," and in a stated tribute, Michael Jackson's "Rock With You."
Sugarland's sweet showing effectively eliminated the bad taste left from Montgomery Gentry's preceding set. The veteran duo (and ham-fisted backing band), led by a leering, mike-stand-spinning Eddie Montgomery and singer-guitarist Troy Gentry, delivered a cliche-ridden packaging of their hits from 1999's "Hillbilly Shoes" onward. What's worse than a suspect lyrical couplet like "My old truck's still running good/ My tickers tickin' like they say it should" (from their 2007 Hot Country chart-topper "Lucky Man")? What's worse is not selling it - something they did repeatedly with their largely artless songs and in perfunctory salutes to the troops, etc. Even their cover selection was rote, overblown, lame: the hoary Kiss party anthem "Rock and Roll All Nite." Boo.