When country superstar Kenny Chesney teamed with film director Jonathan Demme for an American Express Unstaged concert in 2012, the pair ended up making history. More than 20,000 fans showed up to Wildwood Beach in New Jersey for the June event – coinciding with the release of Chesney’s 14th album, Welcome to the Fishbowl – making it the largest concert ever at that location.
Upon learning of Demme’s death on Wednesday at 73, Chesney reflected on the way the filmmaker brought his band’s set to life on video, discovering new layers in songs he’d been performing for ages.
“Jonathan Demme understood how to capture music on film in a way that kept the heart and the energy intact,” says Chesney. “I learned so much watching him work when he shot our show in Wildwood, New Jersey, about songs I already knew – and his love for how music looks when it’s being played live has stayed with me.”
Chesney’s Unstaged show, which was streamed live online, featured a characteristically epic set of 27 songs, including his own hits “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” and “You and Tequila,” along with covers of artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Bruce Springsteen. Demme also provided fans a peek behind the curtain, offering relaxed pre-show footage of Chesney preparing to perform.
Numerous artists and directors paid tribute to Demme as the news of his death spread, including Moonlight director Barry Jenkins, Ron Howard and Shaun of the Dead / Hot Fuzz / World’s End director Edgar Wright. Sopranos star and Springsteen bandmate Stevie Van Zandt tweeted, “One of our great filmmakers one of the most beautiful souls on the planet. Another magical irreplaceable friend gone.”