Chesney gives fans a lesson in control

by Alison Bonaguro
Special to the Tribune

(Chicago Tribune, Published September 4, 2006


Kenny Chesney knows what to do with 28,000 fans. Toyota Park does not.

Saturday night's show at the Bridgeview venue -- home of the Chicago Fire soccer team--was a lesson in poor crowd control and security missteps. The major problem was that there was a single entrance (near the food court) for everyone who had a floor seat, approximately 10,000 concertgoers. People were allowed to dance in the aisles and in front of the stage, which created access problems for the stressed security personnel. Chesney, in fact, was the only one in the place who had any power over the crowds.

In full A-list celebrity mode, Chesney ran down the aisle to the stage, flanked by 30 security guards. Starting his show in the middle of the field, he  opened with his new single "Summertime."

For the next 90 minutes, Chesney had what sounded like the whole arena singing along to every word. People were dancing in the aisles, at their seats, even on their seats. "My bus is 25 yards behind this stage, and I've been hearing you guys all night," Chesney said to the rowdy group.

His voice was pure and strong for all 20 tunes, with just enough Southern drawl to remind everyone of his east Tennessee roots. The self-proclaimed hillbilly rock star kicked things off with songs of nostalgia, such as "Live Those Songs," "Keg in the Closet," "Young" and "There Goes My Life."

If the words to these songs weren't enough to push you down memory lane, there were '60's-inspired videos behind the stage to intensify the mood. Psychedelic cowgirls, Haight-Ashbury scenes and home movies reminded Baby Boomers that he's practically one of them.

But Chesney's look was very right now. Slim jeans, a blue sleeveless tee  and a straw cowboy hat. He'd even put away his so-yesterday puka shells in favor of a silver chain.

By encore time, Chesney had one more weeper, "Who You'd Be Today," and one more must-have, "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy." Opening act Dierks Bentley (Chesney's opponent for CMA Male Vocalist of the Year), came back on stage in a Chicago Bears jersey for a show-closing duet.

Bentley's 10-song set earlier in the night was packed with the heart-wrenching ballads and done-me-wrong songs you'd expect from a honky-tonk veteran, even though he's a relatively new artist. And this may have been the last time Bentley plays warm-up guy. He starts his headlining tour in early October.

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