Kenny Chesney concert about much more than music
This is bigger than Kenny Chesney.
The annual North Shore gathering of tens of thousands of revelers is more than a celebration of a country music artist who refuses to buy shirts with sleeves and who sings about small towns, beachscapes and moonshine.
No, this is a rally. It's a convention of likeminded individuals who – as humans have done for generations – seek out others like them.
“Music is essentially a social phenomenon. It's not something we listen to, per se, it's something we do,” said Rich Randall, an assistant professor of music and director of The Music Cognition Lab at Carnegie Mellon University.
“When people go to shows, they're not necessarily going to see a specific artist; it's more that they'll be in an environment where their values are going to be reinforced,” he said. “Music creates a sense of community. It allows us to express emotions in a direct way without using words. It also allows us to express values as a group.”
Chesney rolled into town on Saturday for what has become an annual appearance since 2005, attracting thousands of fans who partied in parking lots and on boats nestled against the Allegheny River's north shore and who endured traffic jams and heat that neared 90.
What values did the Chesney crowd express? A stroll through the pre-concert festivities provides an array of answers.
Some might see a lesson in overindulgence, evidenced by the scores of passed-out co-eds and that man in the lawn chair who threw up on himself hours before showtime. Others will find an innocent celebration of the start of summer, embodied by the small children leaping barefoot from the river walk into the Ohio River.
But ask concertgoers their opinion and a theme emerges: Patriotism.
“It's about America, dude,” said Jeff Butterworth, 29, of Dormont. “Drink your beers, shoot your guns – I don't care. Just be patriotic.”
Witness Troy Sustich, 26, of Bethel Park, who didn't even go to the show, but said he wouldn't miss being a part of the bigger scene outside Heinz Field. For the occasion, Sustich dressed himself in a T-shirt, bandana and sunglasses, all bearing the American flag.
“You can't do this in any other country,” Sustich said. “In no other country would you have all these people uniting like this. We're celebrating America.”
Celebrants come from all walks of life.
“I know accountants and attorneys who go, and I know regular workers, guys that work on roads, who go,” said Rich Engler, a Pittsburgh concert promoter for more than 40 years. “Chesney has the demographics that everybody kind of wants – he pulls them all in.”
Despite their differences, fans share many traits.
Everyone seemed to know the dress code. Women wore jean shorts and tight, revealing T-shirts or bikini tops, as if they were a uniform. Most men went shirtless, and those who didn't were mindful to tear off their sleeves. Cowboy hats were ubiquitous. Footwear appeared limited to two options: flip-flops or cowboy boots.
It's all evidence that Chesney has fallen into that select group of acts that transcend their music and create a subculture, said Deane Root, professor of music and director of the Center for American Music at the University of Pittsburgh. The Grateful Dead got there, as did Jimmy Buffet and even Frank Sinatra, he said.
“For whatever reason, it's not only the music, but the lifestyle,” Root said. “In some ways, the music making becomes an excuse to live this lifestyle.”
And it's a social phenomenon that's been around for decades. In the late 1800s, Root said, orchestral conductor Theodore Thomas led weekend concerts in New York's Central Park. Scores of people attended. They brought food, sat in the park all day, drank wine and beer – only after several hours had passed would they listen to the concert.
“People made a whole lifestyle out of it,” Root said.
He speculated that the Chesney crowd would be primarily white American (he was right), middle class (inconclusive) and sharing a desire to “celebrate their roots in America, their ties to the land, a place where you can take charge of life and values and not be pushed around.” (Spot on.)
But Joanne Carstetter, 70, of Lower Burrell took a different view. Shortly before the concert, she sat with her husband, Richard, 67, near the Fred Rogers statue and gazed down at the mass of boats and swimmers. Music blared from speakers and geese flocked to children tossing bread into the waves. People sang, took photos and tossed beers to friends and strangers.
“It's just people having fun, taking the time to be together,” she said. “Most times, we don't do that, we don't have the time to be together. Today we do.”
Chris Togneri is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5632 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- One injured in shooting on city’s North Side
- Transportation challenges rife as Pittsburgh focuses on making fixes
- Eastbound Parkway West to reopen Sunday morning
- Montour Trail gets needed updates
- Lawsuit: Pittsburgh Public Schools should have known officer was abusing boys
- Transportation funding uncertainty impacts planning for Western Pa.
- Voters wishing to cast ballot in May 19 primary must register by Monday
- Police confiscated cellphone of driver who struck 7-year-old girl Thursday
- Newsmaker: Derek Wesley
- Development could soon be booming in West End
- Teachers union advises lawyers for colleagues of Plum pair investigated on sex charges