Country crooner Chesney brings the party to Pittsburgh's Heinz Field
By Kellie B. Gormly
Published: Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 7:46 p.m.
When Kenny Chesney comes to Heinz Field, as he has most summers since 2005, the environment resembles a Steelers game in the size of the crowd, the mania of it and the massive traffic gridlock on the North Shore, a Pittsburgh country music disc jockey says.
“It's the biggest concert of the year in Pittsburgh, hands down,” says Jeremy Mulder, whose on-air moniker on Froggy FM 104.3 is Danger Frog.
“It's a big party at the same time,” he says. “It's a great time, and Pittsburgh loves it, and Kenny Chesney loves Pittsburgh. This is one of his favorite towns to play in.”
According to Sony Music, Chesney — who has been producing music since the mid '90s and is one of country music's most prolific stars in this past decade — had sold more than a million tickets for this summer's No Shoes Nation Tour by the second weekend of June. He plays at major stadiums with thousands of seats throughout the country, and during a tough time for the music industry, that is impressive, an observer says.
Many artists are scaling back because of the struggling recording industry, but Chesney is still doing many huge stadium concerts, as George Strait did for several years, says Michael McCall, an editor and writer for publications at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tenn.
Part of the reason for the enormous crowds that require a stadium, McCall says, is Chesney's crossover appeal.
“I think he's helped expand the country audience,” McCall says.
Many people compare Chesney to Jimmy Buffett, the king of island music. There's no denying the similarities between the two artists, McCall says.
“I think he draws a lot of the same crowd ... and for the same reasons,” McCall says. Fans “have fun, throw beach balls, have fun in the sun and drink beers.”
Chesney has a beachy image, and the nautical theme often shows up in his music in songs such as “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems” and “Summertime.” “Pirate Flag” is the lead single from Chesney's latest album, “Life on a Rock,” which came out in April.
Not everyone compares Chesney to Buffett favorably, says Mulder, who saw a Facebook post recently from someone who called Chesney a Buffett wannabe — a common insult.
“I said, ‘Actually, Kenny Chesney is the new Jimmy Buffett already,'” Mulder says. “His crowd is so similar. It's mostly country-music fans, but it's the country version of Jimmy Buffett. Everyone is out there with their flip-flops and tank tops and bikinis. It's a great live show.”
Mulder and McCall both notice an evolution and maturing in Chesney's songs. While he always has been known for fun, light songs, recent works have touched on deeper themes, such as “Life on a Rock” and “Lindy” from the new album.
“He's always been a songwriter, but in recent years, you can see him writing more often, and he's a little more introspective,” McCall says. “He became known for party songs and good-time songs, but as time went on, you heard him going more and more personal and introspective.
Chesney's newer music is “more acoustic and more introspective, and counterbalances the having a good time,” he says.
The song “Pirate Flag,” as silly as it is, also offers a glimpse into Chesney's life, Mulder says.
“He's singing about stuff he's going through,” he says. Chesney is “not just trying to make a hit anymore. Now he's ... more personal with his fans.”
Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7824.
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