Some things are worth the wait. For Kenny Chesney, his white hot band and stadium-sized road family, he took the stage two minutes early at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium hell-bent to sing the songs, rock the crowd and touch the soul of No Shoes Nation. With the fans hitting the South Parking Lots at 10 a.m. to begin tailgating, the five-times extended capacity crowd of 58,369 people – surpassing his own 2018 record of 55,292 by over 3,000 – proved it was more than worth the almost 1,000 day wait.
With a No Shoes Nation Sail flying from the mast of the Buccaneers’ pirate ship at one end and Chesney’s stage moved as far back into the end zone as possible to accommodate ticket demand, the songwriter/superstar from East Tennessee came out blazing with a 7-minute “Beer In Mexico,” a raving “Reality” where he followed the lyric “If anybody needs to be break free…” with a spoken “THAT’S what we’re doing here tonight…,” the live-it-to-the-hilt “Til It’s Gone” and a surging “Here And Now” propelling the night and the crowd to new thresholds.
Telling the crowd how much he’d wondered what it would feel like, returning to a stadium tour after four years, he reported, “It’s a tsunami of love and energy sweeping right over us…” Later in the set, he told the capacity audience of a conversation he’d had with a football luminary before coming out, who advised him “You be sure the light inside you is so much brighter than the lights that shine on you,” before telling the ocean of people, “but that’s impossible, because of the light you shined on us.”
With a leaner, cleaner stage, new video that cuts faster and a band that can’t be stopped, it was a plethora of rhythms from the Calypso-tinged “Out Last Night,” the straight country waltz “Knowing You” and the sultry streaming “Somewhere With You,” guitar solos galore and Jon Conley’s fiddle deftly swerving through “How Forever Feels.” But even more powerful was the number of times the almost 60,000 crowd took over the choruses and sang with as much passion as the 8-time Entertainer of the Year; “Summertime,” “Pirate Flag,” “I Go Back” all came with a real fervor, but “American Kids” saw the crowd taking an acapella chorus several beats after the song was actually complete.
“I knew it was going to be good,” Chesney said. “But this was other level stuff – the way they filled the stadium with light from the moment ‘Anything But Mine’ started, the way they pushed back ‘Noise’ like they were singing for their lives, the relief and reassurance,” Chesney marveled after the show, “I could hear it in their choruses of ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.’ If music holds people together, it also brings them together – and lets them release so much of what’s locked inside.
“After four years, we were together again — and we were going to squeeze every last drop and bit of passion out of every single song.”
Two hours and 15 minutes, slapped hands, license plates from across the country and a white No Shoes Nation flag waved at the end of the strut, Chesney saluted his crew, pulled his entire band to the front of the stage, where they locked arms and bowed. It had been a long time, but it had been a perfect night – and they were going to celebrate it and the fans to the fullest.
Carly Pearce – Photo Credit: Alexa Campbell
Old Dominion – Photo Credit: Mason Allen