No amount of rain could deter country fans from witnessing a landmark performance by Kenny Chesney this past weekend. Already the genre's top touring act, Chesney surpassed the previous 1983 record of most country tickets sold in the New York/New Jersey area, according to a representative for Chesney, when he played the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on Saturday.
The previous title was held by Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard and Linda Ronstadt, who drew more than 51,000 in 1983. Chesney's show Saturday with Zac Brown Band, Billy Currington and Uncle Kracker exceeded 1983's record with 55,239 tickets.
Not an easy feat, Chesney proved just why he's a must-see act for country fans. Performing for well over two hours, his electric live show impressed. Remarkably personable, he told many of the stories behind his songs and then dedicated each track to audience members in similar situations. There were songs about following your dreams, including the energetic "Big Star," to every form of love imaginable. Love at first sight ("Anything But Mine"), love that's not good for you ("You and Tequila") and love of football ("Boys of Fall").
While he probably does this every night of his tour, it's easy for fans to feel like he's speaking directly to them. For Chesney, this is just one aspect of his success and phenomenal live show. He makes a stadium of over 55,000 people feel like they're in a small club with 10 other fans.
Throughout his time onstage Saturday night, Chesney could be found running from one side of the stage to the other, shaking fans' hands and even flying across the stadium, which he did for set opener, "Live a Little." While high energy hits like "Summertime" and "Living In Fast Forward" had the crowd on their feet with soaring electric guitar and catchy percussion, it was the vulnerable tracks that hit home like piano based "There Goes My Life," the poignant "Somewhere with You" and current single, "You and Tequila," a song he played alone on guitar, giving the Meadowlands an intimate feel.
A man of collaboration, Chesney celebrated the night onstage with many of his friends. Everyone from set openers Uncle Kracker, Billy Currington, Zac Brown Band and Sonia Leigh to Yankee player Nick Swisher, his entire crew, and even his mom, made an appearance during his encore. Expressing his desire to stay onstage longer, Chesney performed an electric rendition of his hit, "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy" with Billy Currington before Zac Brown Band joined him for the remainder of his 30-minute encore. Both bands alternated between their own material and countless covers including Alabama's "Dixieland Delight," Steve Miller Band's, "The Joker" and Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds."
Earlier that night, Zac Brown Band hosted an intimate "Eat and Greet" for 100 fans where the band showcased their hospitality serving a classic southern meal and mingled with fans. "This is your chance to track us down and ask us questions," Brown said before Chef Rusty read the menu for the evening.
While fans talked of their favorite ZBB songs or which tracks they were learning on guitar, the band listened attentively. Realizing it was a remarkable experience for fans, Brown said, "People remember when you feed them."
Shortly after, Zac Brown Band took the stage for a mind-blowing 90 minute set. Commanding the stadium of 55,000 just as easily as 100 fans at the eat and greet, the band was engaging with their vigor and impeccable musicianship. The fast paced "Devil Went Down to Georgia" captivated with soaring fiddle accompaniment and guitar interludes while the beautiful "Colder Weather" struck a chord as Brown's powerful vocals reverberated throughout the venue.
"I hope you feel as free as we do out there sharing this night of music," Brown told the crowd before the band performed "Free." As a video of aircrafts and soldiers at war was played in the background and uniformed naval officers were shown in the crowd, fans sang along and waved their hats in the air when the band transitioned into "America the Beautiful."
While the band was in top form throughout their performance, it was set closer and fan favorite, "Chicken Fried" that garnered the most screams. A fitting end to 90 minutes of live music, the crowd sang along word for word and raised their beer cups with the band in unison.
Despite industry rumblings of low ticket sales and a bad economy, country fans came out in flocks Saturday night to support their favorite acts and the bands took notice.
"New Jersey and New York City, this is one of the best nights of our lives," Chesney told the stadium at the end of his set. "God bless you. Thank you for loving music and loving life. See you next time."
With a record setting performance, Chesney hugged every band and crew member onstage before waving goodbye to the audience, who will surely be back next year.