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Kenny Chesney delivers plenty of joy at annual Arrowhead lovefest

deulitt@kcstar.com

This is becoming old hat. Or a gargantuan ritual.

Saturday, for the fifth time in six years, Kenny Chesney drew a huge crowd to Arrowhead Stadium, where for nearly six hours he and his co-headliner and supporting cast delivered their own takes on what passes for country music these days.

Per usual, Chesney put on a spectacle, with plenty of lights and visual dazzle. His set list was stocked with hits and favorites, songs he has performed many hundreds of times yet sings with plenty of enthusiasm. No doubt he was stoked by the size of the crowd, which approached 52,000. That’s an impressive number by any standards, but it fell short of his 2015 show at Arrowhead, when he set the attendance record for a rock show, drawing more than 57,000.

Saturday’s crowd, however, was as rowdy as last year’s, thanks in part to Chesney’s supporting cast. The openers were Old Dominion, a five-piece ensemble based in Nashville, Tenn., that released its debut album in November, and Sam Hunt, a singer/songwriter from Georgia. Both have written songs for Chesney.

Each year, Chesney brings a marquee co-headliner, stars like Zac Brown, Tim McGraw, Eric Church and Jason Aldean. This year’s co-headliner was Miranda Lambert.

A Texan with a heavy twang and an evocative voice, she showcased a catalog that is diverse musically and emotionally, songs like “Kerosene,” a Southern-rock song about heartache and revenge; “The House That Built Me,” a tender gush of nostalgia about returning to the place where you grew up; “Over You,” a song about death and grief; “Dead Flowers,” a hymn about a broken romance; and “Gunpowder and Lead,” another rock anthem about an angry woman with justice on her mind.

She showed off more of her rock chops during two covers: ZZ Top’s “Tush” and Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen.” And — surprise — she was joined by her fellow Pistol Annies (Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley) for a rousing version of “Hell on Heels.”

Lambert is recently divorced from country singer Blake Shelton, and though it never came up during her set, there were moments when her emotions seemed raw and open, none more apparent than when she stooped to greet a young girl at the front of the stage. When the girl, overcome with joy, started crying, Lambert did, too, and had to turn the song over to the crowd so she could recover and wipe the tears off her face.

Lambert later recalled seeing Chesney for the first time when she was 15 and having the same reaction: tears of joy.

She joined Chesney for two songs during his set: “You and Tequila” and then an impromptu cover of “The Fireman,” a George Strait hit and a highlight of the entire show.

Chesney knows how to rile a big crowd. He hit the stage wearing a Kansas City Chiefs tank top, and he shared his love of Arrowhead throughout the show. He and his band effortlessly rolled through a barrage of his hits, starting with the opener, “Beer in Mexico” and on to standards like “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems,” “I Go Back,” “How Forever Feels” and “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.” He also roused a big reaction when he covered Steve Miller’s “The Joker.”

His music draws from a few styles: country, pop and soul. It owes as much to Jimmy Buffett and yacht rock as it does to country, which explains its wide appeal. His lyrics get wry, sentimental and sometimes romantic but never libidinous. It’s the music version of a date movie: PG, feel-good and innocuous.

He closed with “Don’t Happen Twice,” a lament about a romance that withered and died, a first love, which “don’t happen twice.” It’s a standard-issue love ballad, stocked with sentiment and cliches, from a guy who knows how to revive the magic of live music, every year.

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain

Set list

Beer in Mexico; Reality; Til It’s Gone; Summertime; Pirate Flag; No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems; Somewhere With You; I Go Back; Anything But Mine; Old Blue Chair; Young; Noise; American Kids; You and Tequila; The Fireman; How Forever Feels; The Joker; Big Star; She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy; Don’t Happen Twice.

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