It was the perfect night to sit outside and sing along to all our favorite Kenny Chesney hits: 80 degrees, a light breeze, zero percent chance of rain.
So what were we all doing cooped up inside Time Warner Cable Arena?
Thursday night’s concert marked the country megastar’s first indoor show in Charlotte since he played the old Charlotte Coliseum in 2005; in the past 15 years, he’s paid nine visits to the city’s northside amphitheater (formerly Verizon Wireless, now PNC Music Pavilion) and three summers ago teamed up with Tim McGraw to pack Bank of America Stadium.
The diversion from the norm did yield a few positive outcomes, not the least of which was the opportunity to take advantage of that cool and refreshing innovation known as air-conditioning. And I’d imagine that most seasoned local concertgoers enjoy the crippling gridlock that forms before and after PNC shows about as much as they enjoy the effects of food poisoning.
At that same time, in my mind, a big part of what helps turn a country show into a big ol’ party is that natural heat, those Coronas and cornhole games in the parking lot, short skirts on the girls, no shirts on the guys, sweat pouring off hard-working headliners like Kenny Chesney as they preen around the stage.
In 2011, when Chesney played Verizon in 90-degree heat, there wasn’t a dry spot on his shirt by the end of the show. Thursday night, his face and arms dampened during the fifth song, upbeat smash “Summertime,” as he bounded, strutted, clapped, beat his chest, waved his hands and jabbed his finger at the air. But the next song – the easier/breezier “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem” – gave him a chance to cool off. I think I saw him break a sweat just once more, later on, and he had to vigorously jump up and down for about 15 seconds to make that happen.
All that aside, I can assure you that Chesney indoors is just as entertaining as Chesney outdoors. He thrives on fan interaction, and handed out high-fives in high volume (although after bandaging up a small cut he appeared to have sustained on his right pinky during “Keg in My Closet,” just three songs in, he did all his fiving with his left hand).
He provides a lot of bang for the buck: 21 songs in 105 minutes, favoring a rapid-fire approach that just keeps shooting songs at fans – “American Kids,” “Anything But Mine,” “How Forever Feels,” “Never Wanted Nothing More” and “Don’t Happen Twice” were strung together with virtually no interruption – as opposed to jumping in to tell cloying stories about life, love or the pursuit of happiness.
Vivid giant video screens brought those in the back of the house closer to the action, with the camera operators working just as hard as the star and his seven-piece band.
And one of the members of that band – bassist Harmoni Kelley McCarty – stepped forward to deliver the most pleasant surprise of the night: a snarling, hard-charging rendition of AC/DC’s “Whole Lotta Rosie” that she nailed, as Chesney backed her on his own guitar.
Chesney is 47 now, and although he still looks better in a gray muscle tee and tight jeans than I ever will even with lots of Photoshopping, his face is increasingly showing signs of age and he’s maybe not jumping quite as high as he used to. Still, he was able to perform a magic trick about halfway through the show, switching from a cowboy hat to a trucker hat and instantly making himself look about 10 years younger.
Then he looked old again when opener Chase Rice joined him on stage to help out with finale “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.” Rice, a 28-year-old former UNC Chapel Hill linebacker, wore a Muggsy Bogues Charlotte Hornets jersey and his own trucker hat, backwards, which also made him look about 10 years younger.
As the show closed, Chesney and Rice both signed a mint-condition guitar with a Sharpie, then Chesney pacing the stage for several minutes while teasing fans with it, before picking out a woman in a fluorescent pink cami and packaging it up for her to take home.
I’ll bet my next paycheck that she didn’t mind being inside on Thursday night instead of outside at all.