Sunday, August 17, 2008

The "accidental" Kenny Chesney weekend

Kenny Chesney stage
Even though I'm new to the country music scene I have, of course, heard of Kenny Chesney. Really, who hasn't heard of "She Thinks my Tractor's Sexy"? But I do admit that my knowledge of him is mostly limited to the gossip tabloids where he is famous for his short marriage to Renee Zellweger.

So how I ended up spending two days immersed in world of Kenny Chesney fandom is beyond me. It just happened...and I have absolutely no regrets as I had a blast.

It all started Friday afternoon when I decided to get an inside look at what goes on behind the scenes while Chesney's Poets and Pirates crew of 130 people set up the massive stage.

I didn't get to meet Kenny, but I did hang out with his very cool Director of Tour Marketing person who has been working with him for nearly a decade. You'll be happy to hear that she is a Houstonian and was psyched at being back in her home town.

After giving me some tips on where to get the best fajitas in town, she walked me through the stage area. Of course, I went snap-happy with my camera and took a bunch of pictures (check out the slideshow), but my favorite part was the giant bin of ladies lingerie sitting backstage. doesn't just happen at Bon Jovi concerts, people - um, I should say women - really do throw their bras and panties on stage, and Kenny has a giant bin full of them to prove it. I always wondered what bands do with this stuff and now I know: they load them up in the truck and take them along for the tour.

Watching the road crew set up the stage, I realized the sex, drugs and rock and roll lifestyle isn't exactly like it is on TV. It was organized and everything was done according to schedule.

"We have a really good crew and we stay on schedule," said Kate McMahon, Kenny's Director of Tour Marketing. "If I say Kenny is going on at 9:15, that's exactly when he'll be on stage."

Little did she know that on Saturday night, I was going to put her schedule to the test.

Okay, so after checking out the 218 foot long and 70 foot high stage area, I must admit I was getting into the whole Kenny Chesney Poets and Pirates Tour. How could I not? I mean, the show in Houston was not any old show: it was planned to one of Kenny's 15 super shows.

But my Kenny Chesney orientation wasn't over yet. I still had to find out who was opening for him.

You see, during the Poets and Pirates Tour, Kenny does this very cool thing where local bands can audition and the winner gets to open for him. You can image this is a big deal for the performers as it's their shot of playing in front of 60,000 fans.

The final four bands happened to be playing on Friday night at the Hard Rock Café so I decided to check them out. Naturally when I arrived, it was chaos and I couldn't find my backstage contact, but it was easy to figure out who the possible band members were as most of them were decked out in cowboy hats.

The four competing bands were Cody Kouba, Bill Archer, Zane Lewis, and Bleu Edmondson. As I was interviewing them, I quickly learned they all had one thing in common: they were nervous.

"I'm nervous. Very nervous," said Jeremy, the percussionist from Zane Lewis' group.

"There's a lot at stake at this one. It's a door opening opportunity for an entertainer. Whoever wins tonight, tomorrow they will be a household name," said Bill Archer, the only solo act.

Not that I'm qualified to be a judge or anything, but all four bands did a great job. Cody Kouba was the winner of the night, while Bleu Edmondson came in second place.

So after two days of doing behind the scenes interviews, I was ready to go see Kenny Chesney live. It seemed like everywhere I went, people were talking about the concert. In fact, some that I spoke to were going as early as 9:30 in the morning to spend the day tailgating outside the stadium. Now that's dedication.

Anyway, I wasn't planning on throwing any of my underwear on stage, but I wanted to see if the two-time Entertainer of the Year winner was really as good as everyone said.

I arrived just as Keith Urban hit the stage and, don't laugh, but I kind of got lost when I entered the stadium. However, in this case being lost worked to my advantage. Here's why...

My seat was Section 600 Row K - yeah, the super nose-bleeders. But because it was dark and everyone was busy watching Keith Urban on stage, I accidentally walked into the floor area. The usher escorted me to Section F Row K. complete fluke I got to watch the show in one of best seats in the house. Yay!!!

I looked up on stage and there was Keith doing his thing.

Now just like I only know one Kenny Chesney song, I also know only one Keith Urban song. It's "I told you so" and he was singing it. Double yay!! I must say that I now have a little bit of a crush on Keith, who I will now only refer to by his first name just because he was so good. I'll also be downloading a bunch of songs off of iTunes later this weekend.

Keith played until nearly 9:00 p.m. I know this because I looked at my clock and wondered how they were going to clear the stage and get it ready for Kenny Chesney in time. Kate McMahon's words kept going through my head:

"If I say Kenny is going on at 9:15, that's exactly when he'll be on stage."

Amazingly, she was right. At exactly 9:15 the lights went off, and the Poets and Pirates introduction began with the giant animated skull narrating at the back of the stage. For those of you who were there, you know how cool this is.

Suddenly Kenny popped out from the end of the stage. I actually couldn't see this because the one flaw with floor seats is that you can't really see the stage all the time. But that was okay. I could feel the excitement of the crowd and see it on the screen.

But what was really cool was realizing that I had seen the box on the stage where Kenny Chesney was going to pop out of when I was doing my behind the scenes interview the day before and hadn't put it together until now. Duh...I even have a picture of it (see the photo to the right).

Needless to say, I had a great night.

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