Chesney & Zac Brown Band rock a Hurricane Party

A review of Kenny Chesney, Zac Brown Band at Gillette Stadium on August 27, 2011

, Editor-in-Chief

With Hurricane Irene making its way to the area, Kenny Chesney did what he does best on Saturday night in Foxboro: throw a party. Closing out a two-night stand at Gillette Stadium as part of the eighth annual New England Country Music Festival, Chesney and his friends in the Zac Brown Band teamed up for a hurricane party that had the capacity crowd of 55,000 fans singing and dancing in the rain.

Following a short video intro with Chesney sitting in the Gillette Stadium nosebleeds and wearing a Patriots helmet, his band hit the stage to open with “Live A Little”. Much like he did at his last Gillette show, the main attraction made his entrance by flying through the crowd and singing.  After landing on the catwalk, Chesney and company continued with “Reality”, another song of his latest studio effort, 2010’s Hemingway’s Whiskey (in total, he would play five tracks off the new disc). Taking the poor weather in stride, Chesney joked “Welcome to the world’s largest wet t-shirt contest” before delivering a pair of party anthems in “Summertime” and “Beer In Mexico”.

Saturday’s show also served as the closing night for Chesney’s “Goin’ Coastal” tour. Before delivering “Big Star”, Chesney warned the crowd of what may come, saying “Ya never know what’s gonna happen”. Sure enough, it was only two songs later that his shirtless crew members crashed “No Shoes No Shirt No Problem” to spell out the song’s name on their bare chest and dance on stage. It brought a big smile to the star’s face, who repeatedly thanked his crew and band throughout the night. Midway through the main set, he took a moment to single out keyboardist Wyatt Beard and present him with the CMA’s first ever Touring Musician of the Year Award.

The 4-time CMA & 5-time ACM Entertainer of the Year lived up to his reputation as a showman by working all ends of the massive stage and its catwalk that jetted out through the center of the stage in a cross. Chesney’s love for New England is well known. After selling out the home of the Patriots for five years in a row, he decided to go for two nights this year. Like the performer, the New England fans lived up to their reputation, too, even with the poor weather conditions that brought rain in varying amounts as the night progressed. The main set played out like a hit parade with beloved tracks like “I Go Back”, “Anything But Mine”, “Living In Fast Forward”, “Young” and “Don’t Happen Twice” in the mix. Consequently, the sing-alongs were plentiful and jovial for the crowd. Chesney challenged them before “You and Tequila”, declaring that it sparked the loudest response the night before. The crowd accepted the challenge (also giving praise for New England gal Grace Potter with whom Chesney duets on the new single) with a response that was only rivaled by perennial favorite “Boston”.

“If there was ever a crowd that defined this song – this is it!,” declared Chesney before leading fans through a sing-along of “Out Last Night”. Uncle Kracker, who kicked things off much earlier in the day, joined Chesney on stage for “When The Sun Goes Down” and a very sloppy run through his friend Kid Rock’s “Cowboy” (it was fairly obvious that Kracker had been enjoying himself back stage before he took the microphone). It only got worse when a member of Chesney’s online radio station No Shoes Radio, joined his boss on stage to sing a karaoke cover of the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun”. Thankfully, Chesney pulled the show back on its tracks with “How Forever Feels” and the inspirational football ballad “The Boys Of Fall”, the latter of which he said he was absolutely honored to play in a stadium with such rich history.

Chesney returned for a lengthy encore that predictably began with “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” but included opener Billy Currington. From there, he shared the stage with the Zac Brown Band, beginning with a cover of Alabama’s “Dixieland Delight” with a snippet of “If You’re Gonna Play In Texas (You Gotta Have A Fiddle In The Band)” included, which sparked a fun duel between the fiddle players of each band. Chesney introduced ZBB’s “Knee Deep” as one of his favorite songs of the year before he played the role of Jimmy Buffett for the hit song. Crew members dosed Chesney with a bucket of cold water before “Everybody Wants To Go Heaven”, allowing for Brown to take over on lead vocals. The remainder of the encore was a series of random covers, beginning with the Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker” (complete with tags of “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” and Sublime’s “Caress Me Down”). Garth Brooks’ “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)” was the standout with both artists shining, while things got a little silly but fun with Sir-Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back”. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ “Runnin’ Down A Dream” brought the show to a rocking close with each of the bands and their crew members partying on stage.

Chesney has a strong history of openers (Keith Urban, Sugarland, Brooks & Dunn all quickly come to mind) but in the Zac Brown Band, he’s perhaps found the best compliment. Much like Chesney, the laid back Georgia-based band fuse their classic rock and country influences together. However, the Zac Brown Band are clearly a true technical band and their live show boasts more of a focus on their fine instrumentation than showmanship. For their 80-minute set, the band culled from material across their catalogue, including six songs off their latest effort, 2010’s You Get What You Give. “As She’s Walking Away” opened the set with bassist John Driskell Hopkins joining Brown to deliver the vocals sung by Alan Jackson on the studio version.

The Zac Brown Band is a tight unit that clearly thrives on stage. Each boasting their own impressive musicianship, they are not afraid to come together and lengthen many of the songs with an extended bridge or jam session, something rarely – if ever – found in country music. One primary example was “It’s Not Okay”, a true country hoedown that featured a solo from drummer Chris Fryar and impressive fiddle play from Jimmy De Martini. “Whiskey’s Gone” was equally strong, with organist Coy Bowles and mandolin player Clay Cook leading the way. Cook also shined with some nifty effects-laden work on “Where The Boat Leaves From”.

“Keep Me In Mind” was an energetic rocker that will soon hit radio as the fourth and final single off You Get What You Give. Brown asked the crowd to help him sing during fan favorite “Toes”, which the crowd obliged happily with a vociferous sing-along. “Knee Deep” was saved for later in the night with Chesney, though hit ballad “Whatever It Is” was surprisingly and disappointingly absent. The band is already hard at work on their next album and did take time to preview it with the Eagles-esque ballad “Sweet Annie”.

They also delivered a few covers, some expected, others not as much. Their rendition of Ray Lamontagne’s “Jolene” (which was included on 2008’s The Foundation) has been a crowd favorite for years, as has their fantastic take on Charlie Daniels’ “Devil Went Down to Georgia”, which sparked the band’s best jam of the day fueled once again by De Martini. Cook took over on lead vocals for the Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See”, which was highlighted by a pair of blistering solos courtesy of Cook and Bowles.

Among the set’s most memorable highlights were “Colder Weather” and a stellar rendition of “Free”, complete with a coda of Van Morrison’s “Into The Mystic”. In a touching tribute, Brown dedicated the emotional ballad “Highway 20 Ride” to the late Army Ranger Scott Milley of Sudbury, who had planned on attending the show until his untimely death in December. The patriotic band is unabashedly proud to be American and went as far as to deliver part of “America The Beautiful” before launching into their smash hit and set closer “Chicken Fried” (somewhat corny yes, but it worked).

The weather did cooperate for most of Billy Currington’s impressive 45-minute set. Opening with “That’s How Country Boys Roll”, the Georgia native delivered a 11-song set that included material from each of his four albums, from his first hit “I Got a Feelin'” to his latest “Love Done Gone”. Currington’s set also featured the best of the last show on the tour shenanigans and hijinks with the crew parading on stage and blowing vuvuzelas for “Love Done Gone” and slowly disassembling the drum set during set closer “Good Directions”. “Pretty Good At Drinkin’ Beer” was the perfect anthem for many in the crowd, while “People Are Crazy” sparked a massive sing-along. Other highlights including a cover of the Hank Williams’ classic “Family Tradition” and the ballad “Must Be Doing Something Right”, which he sang from the middle of the catwalk in the pouring rain.
Early arrivals were treated to a brief set from Uncle Kracker, who stuck to his hits with a set featuring hit singles “Follow Me” and “Good To Be Me”. He also took time to debut his new single “Saturday Night” off his forthcoming album Postcards from Home, as well as a cover of friend Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long” before ending the set with “Smile”.

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