Chesney ‘Goin’ Coastal’

Kenny Chesney announces the first leg of what he says is his “biggest tour ever,” playing nine stadiums with Zac Brown Band beginning March 19 in Tampa. In anticipation of ending his 2010 touring hiatus, the four-time CMA and ACM Entertainer Of The Year recently talked with Pollstar about climbing back on the bus.

Photo: AP Photo
45th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards, Las Vegas, Nev.

The first question comes from your old friend, promoter Louie Messina. He wants us to ask you, “When are you going to get excited again about getting your ass on a tour bus? You may not be missing touring but your fans definitely miss you.”

(Laughs). Oh, God! Well, you can tell Louie I’m growing more and more anxious every day. And that’s true, actually. I am. I was with the band a couple weeks ago during my album launch. We were together for the first time for a while and it was good to see the guys again. And we’re talking about next year, and we’re talking about spring, and you can see anxiousness in their eyes. And I caught myself doing that too.

Even though we only played a couple of songs together during the promo week, we were playing together again. And it felt, in just that short amount of time, we did “Boys of Fall” and, in rehearsal, we did a few songs off of Hemingway’s Whiskey that we’re going to do in the show – and it felt great. It was new and there was an energy I was hoping was going to be there. And it made me anxious. I got to admit, it really did. And think I could see that in the band also.

According to our stats, you’re the third highest-grossing touring artist of the last decade. And, again, bringing up Louie one more time, he made the point to us that a lot of venues took your visit for granted. And taking a year off suddenly made them realize how much they depended upon your show for their bottom line.

Yeah. Well, my mental health, me as a person, there were a lot of bottom lines that were affected. And none more than mine. It was important to me to take care of myself. It was getting to the point where, last year, it felt it was going to get to the point that the investment that I have made, and the investment the fans have made was going to be compromised. It was starting to feel mechanical and it can’t be that way.

Even as a kid, you know, you go to church and you listen to music. I’m moved by gospel music in church because it comes from the heart. And that’s not mechanical. It’s no different for people out in the audience. I look at it that way. It has to come from the heart; it’s got to move them. And when it doesn’t, when it’s just going through the motions you’re not moving anybody. That’s not the way it was last year but I could feel it going that way if we had done another year just like we did. I felt that’s the way it would have been this year.

Well, it was a good year to take off. Did you have that in the back of your mind?

No, it was just me realizing I had to protect the investment that the fans and I have built together, to build what we’ve built. Now, sitting on the sidelines over here, touring is my life and my business. And I don’t watch what everybody does. I just watch what the industry does as a whole. And it seemed to be the right time for our break. And I’m looking forward to going out there next year – not only me and the band being re-energized but the people who have come to see. They’re going to see a different show. It’s going to be a new show. It’s going to be energetic. It’s going to be loud, it’s going to be fun, it’s going to be an event. And I’m looking forward to that. I’m starting to preach already, you know?

I assume there will be a football motif for at least one song.

Yeah, probably!

Are you guys working on a football motif for the whole show?

Oh, no. “Boys of Fall” is a moment in my career and it’s going to be a moment in the show. “Boys of Fall” is right now a great moment in my career. The song, the video, the documentary film we did that was all over ESPN, I think later on in life, looking back on the highlights of my career, “Boys of Fall” will be right up there in the top two, three, no matter whatever happens in my career, as far as creative-wise. Now me, on the road, that’s a different story. The last decade of my life on the road, as I look back, that was probably the highlight of my career – the whole 10 years. But yeah, “Boys of Fall” is going to be a big moment in the show but the show won’t be wrapped around it.

We keep hearing it’s going to be a “huge” tour, and “huge” can mean the massive amount of dates. But could it also mean a “huge” stage design?

Well, I’ve always been a big believer that the music has to come first. And you’re going to laugh when I say this but I’ve never believed in huge productions. But I’ve contradicted myself for the last six, seven years because we’ve had a huge production. Especially in the stadium shows. But, on top of the music being there, I wanted to give these people a night of entertainment. I want it to look great, and I want everything that’s wrapped around the music to enhance it. So, yeah, I think if you’re going on the road for 60 dates and going out there and doing it like we are, we set a bar that I feel we’re used to, and what I want to give the fans out there. That’s how I want to present the show.

So, yeah, the 60 dates next year, it’s going to be a big production. It may not be as big as some years. It’s going to be a cleaner production. It’s going to be, I think, a more efficient production. But, you know, we already know what it is right now. We have a 3-D rendering of it on computers and we’re looking at sightlines, and we’re looking at lighting trusses, and we’re looking at you name it. It’s almost dialed in.

Yesterday, I had a two-hour meeting with the people who are building our screens and the people who are designing the content of those screens. And we’re measuring. You build your dreamhouse, but you rebuild it every year. So, to do that, when we go out in the spring, you can’t start that process in January. You’ve got to start it now. We started two months ago. So it’s starting to come together. And that’s what a big tour means.

The reason why I work so hard now with Ed Wannebo and Louie and Clint (Higham) and Mike Swinford who does the lights, we work really hard early. So it seems seamless. I just have to worry about being me onstage because I’m so hands on, almost to a fault. I mean, I was in the meeting yesterday talking about the measurements of the screens.

Photo: Jason Squires /
Sprint Center, Kansas City, Mo.

That’s like John Mellencamp kind of stuff.

(Laughs) Yeah. John told me he used to be that way. He said he used to really piss those lighting guys off!

You’ve been known to emerge and hang out with the fans at the tailgate parties that take place before the show.

Yeah, I used to do that a lot.

As the years roll along, how much more difficult is that going to get?

Well, it’s gotten tougher. When we first started doing that – I’m a big Aerosmith fan and I was out in the audience, having a beer with my buddies before an Aerosmith concert and Steven Tyler came out and gave me a beer and hung out, said hello and thanks for coming to the show. I’ll never forget it. Ever. So we used to do that a lot. But it’s tougher, I will admit, because there’s cell phone cameras with HD video on them. It’s almost a completely different culture of what you’re getting yourself into when you go out there. I still want to and I still pick my spots, but I don’t know.

It seems like we’ve had a lot of instances where it was fun last year but there were a couple that weren’t. It was double dangerous. But I still want to do it, and I’m still going to do it but I’m going to pick my spots. I’ll probably have people go out. We used to go out completely blind. Especially every amphitheatre. There were people out there having a blast and getting ready for the show and that’s what got me fired up. I wanted to know what they were doing. I wanted to know at 5 o’clock what their mind frame was and what I had to work with at 9:15. That’s one of the reasons we do it. But yeah, it’s gotten a little tougher. Social media. I still love the idea though.

One last thing: Every artist gets hockey jerseys when they visit venues. Could you think of any alternatives?

For me? That’s funny. I love sports. I literally, in all the years I’ve been touring, the thing I have the most of is jerseys with my name on it. I’ve got hockey jerseys, baseball jerseys, football jerseys, basketball jerseys – home and away jerseys from each team! An alternative? I dunno, man. I dunno! (laughs)

Photo: Phil Bonyata /
Country Thunder 2010, Shadow Hill Ranch, Twin Lakes, Wisc.

Chesney’s “Boys Of Fall” documentary about high school football will be available for DVD pre-orders at Walmart beginning Nov. 9.

The “Corona Extra Presents Kenny Chesney’s Goin’ Coastal Tour” begins in Tampa at Raymond James Stadium March 19. Other dates are Arlington, Texas (Dallas), at Cowboys Stadium April 16; Landover, Md. (Washington) at FedEx Field June 4; Green Bay at Lambeau Field June 11; Philadelphia at Lincoln Financial Field June 18; Pittsburgh at Heinz Field July 2; Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium July 30; Detroit (venue to be announced) Aug. 20 and Foxboro, Mass., at Gillette Stadium Aug. 27.

Billy Currington appears on all dates. Uncle Kracker appears on all dates except Aug. 27 in Foxboro.

Fanclub presales are available. Onsales for Philadelphia and Foxboro begin Nov. 20; Washington Dec. 3; Dallas, Pittsburgh and Kansas City Dec. 4 and Tampa and Green Bay Dec. 11. For more information, click here for