TAMPA — Making like the superman of summer concerts, Kenny Chesney ziplined over the heads of a sweaty sea of revelers at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday — 48,443 party stars in all — kicking off his massive Brothers of the Sun tour in a city he says "just keeps getting louder and louder."
Amen and yeehaw to that, cowboys and girls. We sure do whoop it up when the wee 44-year-old superstar blows into town. This year, a whole bunch of you showed up at 10 a.m. (aka breakfast) for a tailgate that percolated in the shadows of the venue for six hours before the five-hour show even started. Let's hear it for stamina!
Chesney knows one way to do it, and that's BIG. Eighty tractor trailers, traveling some 19,458 miles, are being used on this tour, which employs 282 crew members. Last year, the ringmaster invited the Zac Brown Band to join his epic hootenanny, which drew 50,548 people here; this year, he got even more bold-faced with the lineup, inviting the man he considers "the brother I never had": Tim McGraw.
The show was opened by young, pretty acts Jake Barefoot Blue Jean Night Owen, a heckraiser from Vero Beach, and Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, a long-legged hippie chick who gamboled about barefoot in blue-jean shorties, but the masses didn't really start to fill the joint until the old guys showed up.
That said, the 45-year-old McGraw packed his white tee and snug jeans like a much younger cowboy, squeezing opening song Felt Good on My Lips in between the appreciative screams of his female fans. Faith Hill's hubby played a 100-minute set, which included For a Little While, Down on the Farm, No. 1 smash Real Good Man and Sammy Kershaw's Better Than I Used to Be.
McGraw is a master of the self-inflicted chest pound and go-get-'em face; during I Like It, I Love It, he even excelled at the double-finger-point into the crowd. His style — dark sunglasses; ridiculously tan, slim good looks — is almost as important as the songs he's singing (Something Like That, Live Like You Were Dying).
There was a time when McGraw's star burned brighter, but Chesney has become one of the biggest acts in music, despite having a mellow demeanor and puddle-deep songbook. But man, the guy can throw a bash. With his sleeves cut off and his guns bronzed, he was lifted from a small stage in the center of the crowd and kicked into Beer in Mexico. "It's been a long winter, Tampa," he hollered, then hopped into that zipline rig and floated above the crowd.
The sound system (like, all of it) went kablooey during Keg in the Closet, but by the time Chesney got around to Summertime and Reality, all was well. Chesney worked his sweat-soaked tail off for almost two hours, patrolling the plus-shaped ramps off the main stage like he was running for mayor. He sells a life of No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem. He celebrated his wild ways with the besotted Out Last Night and When the Sun Goes Down. And yet in reality, he's one of the hardest-working businessmen around. (In fact, on Saturday, he worked well past this newspaper's deadline.)
"I honestly and truly believe that music is the most important thing we have in our lives," he said, before playing the earnest I Go Back. He can work a heart-smashing ballad, too, including Anything But Mine and the devastatingly good Somewhere With You.
He invited Grace Potter back to perform their duet You and Tequila, one of the night's subtle highlights. He then led 48,443 in singing Happy Birthday to the drummer in Potter's band. Even Chesney's birthday parties are epic.
Sean Daly can be reached as [email protected] or (727) 893-8467