There's a reason Kenny Chesney was Saturday night's HullabaLOU headliner. This man knows how to rule a stage.
All day long I talked to die hard fans who couldn't wait for a chance to see him perform live. There were countless people in cowboy boots and straw hats. I talked to fans who came from New Jersey to Michigan, some of whom have saw him 10 times or more and keep coming back.
I was a little surprised when people told me he was like a young Jimmy Buffett. Their music doesn't sound that much alike to me. I mean, sure, there's some good guitar work, relaxing lyrings, and a very relatable singer, but how can you compare Margaritaville  to She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy ?
However, when I saw him come on stage in his signature straw cowboy hat I started to understand. The Jimmy Buffet comparison comes from fan reactions more than the music itself. Everyone I met who loved Kenny was super friendly. His loyal tailgaters outside played me with countless free drinks. The laid back fans inside Churchill Downs were friendly, smiling sorts here to kick back wtih a beer and good music.
Kenny and his entire crew knew how to show Louisville a good time. The last time he was in town he played to a crowd of 60,000 at Papa John's stadium. Even though Saturday night's crowd was about half that size, he brought that same passionate energy to the stage. His backup band was just as enthusiastic - especially the saxaphone and horn player, who looked like playing with Kenny Chesney meant they won the musical lottery.
As with Bon Jovi, the camera work for the jumbo screens was phenomenally well done. The angles, the way they cut between musicians, the closeups, the fast cuts during energetic songs - it honestly felt like I was watching a documentary. I'm curious if we'll see concert DVD's for sale later from HullabaLOU.
Now, I'll be honest here, country isn't my top genre of music, but I had an absolute blast listening to Kenny Chesney. It says a lot when I can't stop swaying while listening to someone who doesn't have a single song on my MP3 player. The music had a great beat, the crowd enthusiasm was infectuous, and the sheer vibrant energy he brought to the stage made it impossible not to move to the music.
When I talked to fans, the nearly universal hope was he'd sing Summertime  as his encore. Hopefully they weren't disappointed to hear it earlier in the set. At the end of the night, he brought the house down with She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy.  A lot of those tailgater showed up in SUV's. I'm not sure how many of them have even seen a tractor, but I can tell you the ladies all thought Kenny was sexy.
Photo credit Chris-Rachael Oseland