|EVANSVILLE, Ind. – As the only country artist in Billboard’s Top 10 Touring Acts of the Last 25 Years for the last 14 years, doing a tour of arenas in markets where he got his start shows how much Kenny Chesney is about taking his music to the people. But it’s also been a demi-bucket list return to the intimacy and passion that defined No Shoes Nation from the beginning. And as the tour winds down, Evansville, Indiana proved it’s not the size of the audience, but the heart.|
After a solid 60 seconds of cheers following “I Go Back,” it was obvious NSN had come for the music – and they were going to leave everything they had on the floor of the Ford Center in Evansville, Indiana. Almost a decade since his last appearance at the basketball-centric venue, Chesney pulled out rarities, including “The Good Stuff” and “There Goes My Life,” which saw the fans deliver those songs back to the 8-time Entertainer of the Year like a prayer.
“You forget how much power those songs have – until you play them and feel the emotions they pull out of people,” Chesney says. “You can be so quiet you can feel your heart beat – and hear how palpable those feelings are that people have tucked up in your songs. It takes your breath away.”
Palpable, indeed. But that heightened emotionalism didn’t dampen the high spirits. Whether a second chorus of “American Kids,” after the song was over, the coming-of-age anthem “Young” or the full-tilt “Big Star” dedicated “to any girls out there who have a dream,” Chesney and his band were bringing it as hard as the audience was throwing it back.
And being so close to tour end, the pranks and surprises have already started. With a few nights off before their two-night stand at Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 6-time Academy of Country Music, 5-time Country Music Association Vocal Group of the Year and Chesney tour vets Old Dominion ambled onstage during the intro to “Save It For A Rainy Day” to surprise the clearly shocked headliner. Laughing at their still pulling pranks, it’s the first time that leader Matthew Ramsey was seen off his cane; he was enjoying the fun as the collected group also threw down a jubilant take on the Eagles “Take It Easy.”
“Nobody pulls one over on me,” Chesney laughed after. “My band and my crew can’t keep secrets, but they kept this one! And it was so good seeing those guys, having Matt and Brad (Tursi) who wrote ‘Save It’ up there with us. It shows what road family means, doesn’t it? They took a night off to prank us!”
Kelsea Ballerini, who’s spent the tour as Chesney’s special guest and performing their CMA and ACM Award-winning “half of my hometown” with him nightly, was also the recipient of some tour ending high jinks. Having given long time encore/play-off “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” a break for most of the I Go Back 2023 Tour, Chesney put it in for some playful vamping with the young woman who grew up in the same hometown Chesney did for a little bit of karaoke dreams come true.
Even more fun was the christening of Ballerini’s nickname, which appeared on a sign that was beamed to the packed arena. Half set-up for the next song, half good-natured teasing of a little sister, Chesney told the crowd how much Kelsea loves tequila – and then told the delighted crowd, “Her nickname is now ‘TeKelsea.’”; to which the young woman laughed and replied, “Well, I guess it’s gonna be a thing now.”
Highlights and good vibes permeated the evening. With 28 songs, including a few surprises, Chesney kept the crowd on their feet for over two hours. What just started is already winding down for the man who usually spends his summers in NFL stadiums across the country – the reason Variety called him “a stadium-sized superstar” – and every last moment feels like a memory to last a lifetime.
Presented by Blue Chair Bay® Rum, I Go Back heads to Charleston, South Carolina then Orange Beach, Alabama. That final show at the Wharf is now a double, with tickets for Friday going on-sale 5/22 at 10 a.m. local time.