Kenny Chesney arrived Monday in Canfield witha No. 1 single and several music award nominations under his belt.
By DEBORA SHAULIS
CANFIELD -- One man taking his seat Monday night in the grandstand at the Canfield Fair was impressed. He'd expected a "small-town concert," he told his friends, but was surprised by the size of the audience and the sight of giant video screens on each side of the well-lighted stage.
Imagine how he felt after seeing country star Kenny Chesney's big-city performance.
Technically speaking, Chesney's 90-minute show was as good as the one he gave nearly two months ago at Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls. People saw the same set, watched the same videos to augment his songs and heard the same high-caliber band play his blue collar-crowd hits.
In terms of what Chesney himself put into it, this concert was superior to that night at Blossom.
Maybe county fairs bring out the best in the buff man from Luttrell, Tenn. More likely, Chesney arrived in Canfield riding a wave of confidence.
Nominations pile up
He's gaining acclaim as he winds down his first national tour as a headlining act. His latest single, "The Good Stuff," has been the No. 1 song on Billboard magazine's top country singles chart for seven weeks. Late last week, he was nominated for several Country Music Association Awards, including album, male vocalist and entertainer of the year. (Awards will be presented Nov. 6.)
Whatever the reason, Chesney was in good spirits and ready to reach out to the enthusiastic 9,000-strong crowd here.
His entrance was the same as at Blossom. He sang the first few lines of "Young," from his latest album "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems," from behind a pair of white screens. They fell to each side, and Chesney emerged wearing a cowboy hat, sleeveless light blue Eagles concert T-shirt and tight denim jeans as he sang about "wannabe rebels who didn't have a clue, in our rock 'n' roll T-shirts and our typically bad attitudes." "Young" is an example of how Chesney is successfully casting a wide net with his country-rock blend of songs.
The set list was similar to what Chesney performed at Blossom, with a few notable exceptions. Those were the more morose songs on "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems," which is his moodiest album to date.
His cover of Bruce Springsteen's "One Step Up" and the Bill Anderson-Dean Dillon-penned song "A Lot of Things Different" -- songs about regrets -- were off the list Monday. Instead, some lightly country-fried covers of fun rock songs made the cut, including "Tush" by ZZ Top and "Keep Your Hands to Yourself" by the Georgia Satellites.
Of course, he sang his current chart-topper and plenty more from his new CD and his greatest hits collection. (Yes, the 34-year-old singer released a greatest hits package last year.) "Back Where I Come From," Chesney's anthemic salute to his hometown, had some especially sweet moments as his fiddle player performed a solo.
Through it all, Chesney was animated as he bantered with the audience about various topics. Some of it was the same as at Blossom, some of it was spontaneous.
He dropped the Canfield and Ohio names many times, and he talked about local radio station WQXK-FM being nominated for the CMA's small-market, country music station-of-the-year honor.
When hundreds of fans at trackside pressed their way to the stage while he sang "How Forever Feels," he good-naturedly walked the length of the stage and gave people high-fives.
Chesney and company gave a satisfying encore that began with one of his past hits, "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy," and continued with a medley of rock songs. The final number was "Jack and Diane" by John Mellencamp.
He may not have sounded his very best while performing another singer's career-defining hit, but he was on his best behavior. Chesney remained onstage to sign T-shirts, hats and an assortment of items while his band kept the song going.
That kind of small-town attitude had its place at the Canfield Fair's big finale of 2002.