|Kenny Chesney ran his festival like a party Saturday. (Patricia McDonnell for The Boston Globe)|
FOXBOROUGH - From the videos of tailgaters living it up to the barrage of beach balls in the air to the romanticized beach-living themes that stayed front and center Saturday at Gillette Stadium, it was clear that Kenny Chesney is well-versed in the way Jimmy Buffett conducts his business. There was music, sure, but Chesney wasn't staging a concert, he was throwing a party.
And like those of a certain Mayor of Margaritaville, Chesney's visits are becoming something of a summertime tradition. The annual New England Country Music Festival, his fifth, sold out in 15 minutes. By the time opener Gary Allan closed with barnburner "Drinkin' Dark Whiskey," he'd been onstage for three times as long as it took for more than 55,000 tickets to vanish.
LeAnn Rimes took the stage next with a frisky energy that matched the bad-girl-gone-bad subject matter of itchy, bluesy opener "Nothin' Better To Do." "How Do I Live" served as a reminder of the adult-contemporary career that she thankfully avoided, but Rimes shone on exactly the type of spirited material suited to a barefoot country singer in a black cocktail dress.
Looking more and more like the Dude from "The Big Lebowski" as time marches on, pop-metal lunkhead Sammy Hagar didn't make the slightest concession to the rest of the lineup, seeming as though he might have just shown up upon hearing that the concert was sponsored by Corona beer.
It was dark by the time Keith Urban finished his set, but his spirits were anything but. The new father beamed through a celebratory performance. Upbeat anthems from "Days Go By" to "Somebody Like You" exuded joy, even as there were reminders of sadder days gone by like "Stupid Boy," which featured Urban's best guitar work in a mournful solo.
Chesney had little use for such subtlety. The dozen musicians barely registered as individual instruments, but a few began to claw out of the roar in "Shiftwork," its Mexican rhythm buoying a guitar and organ whose sounds (but not styles) were taken straight from reggae, and "Never Wanted Nothing More" featured some of the show's lightest instrumentation, in that the banjo was actually audible.
Mostly, though, Chesney was a showman, working every inch of the stage (which extended well into the audience) and bringing out Tim Wakefield and a handful of Patriots to sing along, and he had a good-natured intensity about him, even just singing party anthems. A handful of contemplative songs slipped through, including the probably-inevitable solo acoustic "She's From Boston." But by the time of closer "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy," good-time facilitator Buffett seemed to have an heir apparent.