Kenny Chesney is familiar with Arrowhead Stadium. Saturday, he visited the home of the Chiefs for the fourth out of the past five summers. It was a typical Chesney show, except for one thing.
Headlining a bill that included co-headliner Jason Aldean and Brantley Gilbert, Chesney drew a crowd of 57,368, according to officials with the Kansas City Chiefs, breaking the stadium record of 56,132, set by Pink Floyd in June 1994.
The largest concert crowd at Arrowhead may have been the most raucous, too. For more than two hours, Chesney and his band fired one hit after another at the throng that surrounded them, and each time it responded like fans watching their favorite sports team win a playoff game.
Chesney’s was the fifth set of a show that started at 4:30 p.m., when the stage and much of the crowd was bathed in sun and heat. The openers included Old Dominion, a five-piece standard country-rock band from Tennessee that played its singles, “Shut Me Up” and “Break Up With Him.”
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Cole Swindell, an affable 30-something Georgian, followed Old Dominion. Swindell, who has written several songs for country superstar Luke Bryan, has released only one album, but three of its songs have been top 10 hits. He performed all three: “Chillin’ It,” “Hope You Get Lonely Tonight” and “Ain’t Worth the Whiskey.”
Gilbert followed Swindell, and he changed the mood abruptly. His music is more hard-driving Southern rock and metal than traditional country. His appearance makes it immediately clear he’s no pretty boy under a cowboy hat. Burly and tattooed, he sings in a heavy twang biker anthems like “Country “Throwdown,” “Hell on Wheels” and “Take It Outside,” a heavy-rock anthem about what happens when you feel like you need to “stomp somebody’s ass.”
On each of his stadium tours, Chesney has brought a co-headliner, stars like Tim McGraw, Eric Church and Zac Brown. Aldean is as big, if not bigger, than all three of them. By the time his set began, the temperature had fallen, a breeze was blowing and the stadium was as full as it would be all night.
Much of Aldean’s music can rock as hard as Gilbert’s, but without all the menace and snarl. His set, which included some pyrotechnics, comprised more than 20 songs, including many of his top 10 country hits (he has 20), like “Amarillo Sky,” “Johnny Cash,” “Big Green Tractor,” “My Kinda Party,” a song Gilbert wrote, and “Flyover States,” which generated a loud ovation when he mentioned Kansas.
His straight cover of Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down,” which fit right in with his own material, started a hearty sing-along, especially when the chorus kicked in. But one of his closers, “Dirt Road Anthem,” a song about beer, trucks, girls and small-town ways, drew one of the loudest responses of the night.
Chesney took the stage to much pageantry and fanfare. After about a dozen T-shirts were tossed and launched into the crowd, a video played featuring celebrities hailing the headliner, including Vince Vaughn and Matthew McConaughey (setting off all the “True Detective” fans), Willie Nelson, Dick Vitale and Sammy Hagar.
Then Chesney appeared, suspended in a chair high above the floor, riding a guide wire towards the stage. He is one of the most decorated stars in country music. His resume includes 16 studio albums, 10 of which reached No. 1, and more than 50 singles, more than two dozen of which reached No. 1.
He opened with one of those, “Reality,” a song about escape, whether it’s to the beach, in a fast car or via moonshine in a mason jar. Next came “Beer in Mexico,” a mega-hit that launched a sub-genre: paradise country or songs about flip-flops, Corona beers (or tequila) and days wiled away on a beach and in the water.
From there, he lobbed more hits and favorites, keeping the mood kindled and roaring, like a bonfire on the beach: “’Til It’s Gone,” “Summertime,” which prompted a thunderous sing-along, and “Pirate Flag,” a country-funk song with manic fiddle that comes with its own banner: a white on black skull-and-crossbones declaring the place “No Shoes Nation.” He followed that with “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem,” and the sing-along to that was probably heard beyond Raytown.
Chesney, 47, spent much of the night in motion, running around the stage and the short runway, hopping up and down and stirring the crowd into clapping along or waving arms. The temperature had cooled by the time he took the stage, but he was bathed in sweat through out the set, which exceeded two hours.
Other highights: the joyous “Living In Fast Forward”; “American Kids,” which erupted into an epic campfire singalong; and “You and Tequila,” which he started solo but turned into a full-band number. The set list included a few covers, including AC/DC’s “Whole Lotta Rosie,” performed by bassist Harmoni Kelley McCarty who, dressed in bell bottoms and wearing a head band to hold back her mane of blond hair, looked like someone out of Woodstock.
Aldean joined him on the encore, which included one of Chesney’s biggest hits, “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” and a cover of John Mellencamp’s “Hurt So Good.” By the time they’d started that, both were wearing Chiefs jerseys.
Before that, however, Chesney ended his main set by showing photos of him at Chiefs training camp in St. Joseph on Friday. Then he and the band performed “The Boys of Fall,” a sentimental song about football, particularly small-town high school football. It includes testimonials from Peyton Manning, Bret Favre, Joe Namath and others.
But this version included images of the Super Bowl-era Chiefs, which set off a prolonged, volcanic response from a record-breaking crowd inside a stadium accustomed to producing record-breaking noise.