NFL sta­di­ums and Kenny Ch­es­ney: mag­i­cal mix of sports/mu­sic


The wave of sound builds from the bot­tom of the lower bowl to the very top of MetLife Sta­dium. Ev­ery seat is filled, and the place rocks with en­ergy and an­tic­i­pa­tion.

In­deed, it couldn’t be any louder if the Gi­ants or Jets were play­ing in a Su­per Bowl there.

Ex­cept there’s no foot­ball game about to kick off. It’s one of 14 NFL and 19 over­all sta­dium stops for Kenny Ch­es­ney on his five-month, 42-show “Trip Around The Sun” tour ear­lier this year. And the mu­si­cal magic about to be cre­ated ri­vals any­thing the place has ever seen.

For coun­try mu­sic’s big­gest star — Ch­es­ney is the only coun­try act in Bill­board’s Top 10 tour­ing artists of the last quar­ter-cen­tury — and a nom­i­nee for a ninth En­ter­tainer of the Year hon­our at next week’s CMA awards show, the mar­riage of mu­sic and sports is a nat­u­ral.

“When I was grow­ing up, I had two pas­sions: sports and mu­sic,” Ch­es­ney says. “They were things that made you feel even more alive, and they lifted you up. It was al­most hard to sep­a­rate the way play­ing foot­ball made you feel from how be­ing at a great con­cert was. Mu­sic is such a pri­mal force: it’s in­side us, with­out think­ing.

“I think play­ing sports is the same way. How you feel when you’re on the field, that im­me­di­ate rush is the ul­ti­mate high. When I started play­ing for tips and bur­ri­tos at Quar­ter­back’s, it was the same thing — only less in­tense, be­cause there were so many vari­ables. But as time went on, as I learned about writ­ing songs, re­ally di­al­ing in on life and per­form­ing so I know I’m reach­ing peo­ple at the back of the room, that in­ten­sity of how it feels when it’s right be­came the same thing. When the drum kicks, the lights start and you can hear the crowd even be­fore the cur­tain falls, it’s like that first play of the night. ... It’s on, and there’s nowhere in the world you’d rather be.”

Ch­es­ney spends up to three hours on the stage per­form­ing a col­lec­tion of hits pretty much un­equaled among con­tem­po­raries in any mu­sic genre. It’s an ex­haust­ing trip for vir­tu­ally ev­ery­one: band mem­bers, stage­hands, crew and, of course, the au­di­ence. And it’s worth ev­ery sec­ond.

NFL games gen­er­ally last about that long and can cre­ate the same aura.

“If we do it right, hope­fully we wring ev­ery spec of en­ergy out of the fans,” Ch­es­ney ex­plains. “Some­times you can feel a slight ebb dur­ing the last song. But what’s more likely to hap­pen, the en­ergy feeds it­self, so by the end, they’re hit­ting a whole other plateau. They may sleep til 2 the next day, but they’re bring­ing it hard, and they’re not quit­ting.”

Robert Kraft would agree. The owner of the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots is a cer­ti­fied mem­ber of No Shoes Na­tion. He has had a spe­cial re­la­tion­ship with Ch­es­ney since 2005, when the first of 19 con­certs at Gil­lette Sta­dium took place.

“Kenny’s mu­sic is truly one of a kind. It has this unique and spe­cial qual­ity to it that takes peo­ple to a place where they can for­get the day-to-day wor­ries of life and en­joy the mo­ment, whether in the car lis­ten­ing to the ra­dio or in sta­dium full of peo­ple sing­ing along. When you see Kenny live in con­cert, his per­sonal en­ergy and charisma is like no one else,” Kraft said. “He brings you into the melody and the mo­ment, and it takes those feel­ings to an en­tirely dif­fer­ent level. Af­ter 14 years and 19 shows at Gil­lette Sta­dium, I con­tinue to be blown away by the way Kenny and his mu­sic af­fects peo­ple. It truly is one of my favourite scenes, see­ing 60,000 happy, glow­ing faces tak­ing in the time­less great­ness that is Kenny Ch­es­ney.”

Ch­es­ney is the big­gest ticket seller for any mu­si­cal genre at MetLife Sta­dium, where Bruce Spring­steen, Bon Jovi and Tay­lor Swift have been reg­u­lars. The Trip Around The Sun show at MetLife Sta­dium in Au­gust was de­layed by a se­vere thun­der­storm be­fore one of the ac­com­pa­ny­ing bands, Old Do­min­ion, took the stage. That also pushed back the set by Thomas Rhett and Ch­es­ney, who played and sang be­yond mid­night.

Yet, just as they would for a big game in­volv­ing the Gi­ants or Jets, the fans re­mained, their en­thu­si­asm only whet­ted, not wet­ted down.

“There are two things,” says Ch­es­ney, whose most re­cent chart-top­ping al­bum, “Songs For The Saints,” is a trib­ute to the Vir­gin Is­lands that were dev­as­tated by Hur­ri­canes Irma and Maria last year. Ch­es­ney had a home on St. John. “One, I think sports and mu­sic are the two things peo­ple are truly pas­sion­ate about, so there’s al­ways go­ing to be sim­i­lar­i­ties in the re­sponse. I know plenty of foot­ball fans are out there; heck, there’s a lot of play­ers, the coach­ing staff, peo­ple af­fil­i­ated with the teams at the shows.

“But just as im­por­tantly, there’s that sense of pride in what No Shoes Na­tion stands for. For the fans who are just mu­sic peo­ple, they have the same con­nec­tion to how the songs we sing hold their lives as sports fans have about their team kind of rep­re­sent­ing the best of who they are. You know, there’s no thrill greater than high school foot­ball, and see­ing your team rush out on the field, and I think that car­ries over to the NFL for adults, and just peo­ple who re­mem­ber when.”

Those folks tend to re­mem­ber when they wit­nessed a par­tic­u­larly mem­o­rable game. They def­i­nitely re­call at­tend­ing — and be­ing such a large part of — a Ch­es­ney con­cert.

“I don’t think any­thing sur­passes the ex­cite­ment of see­ing your favourite team play,” he says, “but I do think peo­ple who come to th­ese sta­di­ums re­ally bring their most pas­sion­ate selves. When they come to th­ese places — Levi Sta­dium, Ar­row­head Sta­dium, Ray­mond James Sta­dium — they come to throw ev­ery­thing they have at their team.

“And I think they bring that mind­set when they walk in the door for our shows, too.”

Ch­es­ney has not com­mit­ted to an­other sta­dium tour. In 2019, he is plan­ning a more in­ti­mate se­ries of con­certs. But per­haps the un­for­get­table vibes from the pre­vi­ous con­certs will lead to an­other Trip Around the Sun.

Re­gard­less, Ch­es­ney and No Shoes Na­tion have proven the bond be­tween mu­sic and sports is un­break­able.

“I love foot­ball, and the dis­ci­pline that goes into play­ing it,” he says. “I’ve been lucky to be friends with Sean Pay­ton, the Man­ning fam­ily, Drew Brees, a lot of those guys, not to men­tion so many peo­ple a ca­sual fan might not know. I’ve been to prac­tice; I’ve been to games. I still get a lit­tle amazed that I know ev­ery inch of a lot of th­ese build­ings I see on TV ev­ery week, be­cause I stopped grow­ing in the ninth grade, and that was the end of any dream of play­ing sports for a liv­ing.

“When I think about that, or when I’m on­stage, and look­ing all the way to the top, it’s a pretty un­be­liev­able feel­ing. All those games, all that en­ergy, and we get to be part of th­ese places in a way that’s just as pas­sion­ate and in­tense in a whole other way. It re­minds me how pow­er­ful mu­sic can be.”


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