Kenny Chesney performs to two sold out crowds at Alltel Pavilion

by Lauren Cartwright

Country music has a whole new groove. Line dancing is your grandma’s country. If the concert on Friday at Raleigh’s Alltel Pavilion was the norm, it has been replaced by fans gyrating and grinding in ways that used to be reserved for a hip hop clubs.

One of the top male vocalists of country music Kenny Chesney is one of the faces of this ‘new’ country. Not that he’s new to the scene ‘— Chesney’s been releasing records for over a decade, and has made a steady climb to the top.

His two sold out performances at Alltel Pavilion, around 40,000 tickets. Friday night’s concert sold out in 13 minutes; that’s about the same amount of time it takes to eat a value meal from your favorite fast food restaurant. The sea of fans in the grass on Friday were just as exuberant was the ones who forked over a few more bucks for an actual seat.

When Chesney came on stage, they eagerly cheered, sang along and danced in their seats and in the aisle. Across the aisle from my seat a father danced with his young daughter to the island-themed lyrics and the beat of a steel drum.

Chesney played very few songs from his newest album, Be as you are: Songs from an Old Blue Chair, an album of original songs mostly about Chesney’s time in the Caribbean ‘— his hideaway from fame.

The crowd was digging on songs from his album When the Sun Goes Down ‘– an album that is a marriage of traditional country and Jimmy Buffet-esque tunes. His earlier releases like ‘“She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy’” and ‘“How Forever Feels’” had the crowd up and singing too.

This Somewhere in the Sun tour has the same feel as last summer’s Guitars, Tiki Bars, and a Whole Lot of Love, with an almost an identical set of songs. Unkle Kracker showed up again this year; last year he played as warm-up to Chesney’s main act. Chesney called Kracker out on stage for a rendition of their duet ‘“When the Sun Goes Down.’” Kracker and Chesney also rapped their way through Kid Rock’s, ‘“Cowboy.’” Though Chesney is no Snoop Dogg, he did pretty well for a white boy from Tennessee. Chesney’s stage design has a gotten a lot bigger, with more lights, a customized curtain for pre-show stage adjustments, and three big screens in the background playing video clips.

Chesney also called Gretchen Wilson, one of his opening acts, to help out on vocals for John Mellencamp’s ‘“Hurts So Good.’” They grooved their way through the tune with moves that would have made new wife Renee Zellweger jealous.

Chesney was just as genuine as the first time I saw him in concert in 1999. I sat in an Ohio cornfield on a hay bail and paid $15 for the ticket. I always have the feeling that Chesney is scared one day his fame will dry up, and instead of constantly looking over his shoulder, he just lives it up.

The caliber of his current show is well worth the ticket price. But fans will have to wait until the next tour if they don’t have a ticket; according to Chesney’s website all the remaining dates are sold out.