With flash and fun, Chesney knows how to connect with his fans
FOXBOROUGH - Kenny Chesney has, impressively, sold out Gillette Stadium for five straight summers. But that doesn’t mean the contemporary country superstar still doesn’t have a few tricks up his strictly metaphorical sleeves.
Saturday night, in addition to energetically leading his well-oiled, 11-man band with heart and humility, Chesney showed off two shiny spectacles.
The first was a flashy opening gambit in which he was hoisted above the crowd in a little chair that moved from side to side across the stadium before delivering him safely to his ginormous stage to finish opener “Live Those Songs.’’
The second came in the form of a pair of New England Patriots - Tedy Bruschi and Wes Welker - whom Chesney dragged out to display their vocal skills during an encore medley jam that included Steve Miller’s “The Joker’’ and Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.’’
In between, Chesney did what his fans love him for: spend half the night singing catchy country pop tunes about how great the good old days were - “Young,’’ “Keg in the Closet,’’ “I Go Back’’ - and the other half singing catchy country pop tunes about tropical aspirations - “Beer in Mexico,’’ “When the Sun Goes Down.’’ It’s like a huge, cheerful gathering of friends watching home movies in the back of a tiki bar where the only concern is the choice between a Corona and a frozen margarita. (Given the omnipresence of the tour’s corporate sponsor, we’re guessing that, for the summer at least, Chesney’s picking the beer.)
Chesney works hard and still gets a visible emotional charge when the crowd sings his songs back to him, which they did early and often, and especially heartily on “Boston,’’ a regional set list addition. And if Jimmy Buffett is the role model, Chesney didn’t miss the lesson of his elder’s more reflective side, slowing things down for contemplative piano ballads like “There Goes My Life.’’
With a breathless, high energy set - culminating in a joyous cover of “Walking on Sunshine’’ - Sugarland proved that they’re ready for a stadium headlining gig of their own. The duo, led by frontwoman Jennifer Nettles’s roof-raising pipes, sailed from arena rock bombast - “Who Says You Can’t Go Home’’ - to acoustic intimacy - “Stay’’ - to rousing country waltzes - “Already Gone’’ - with exhilarating seamlessness.
Montgomery Gentry roused the heat-beaten crowd with its Skynyrd-flavored country rock and a run through Kiss’s “Rock and Roll All Nite,’’ while Miranda Lambert stoked the fire with her hell-hath-no-fury vengeance anthems and a stab at Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock N’ Roll.’’ Harmony-loving newcomers Lady Antebellum got things started on the right cowboy boot-clad foot.
Sarah Rodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org