Wonder if Kenny Chesney ever wrote a thank-you note to Garth Brooks. After all, when Garth retired from the road to raise his three daughters, Chesney stepped up — and in — as country music’s No. 1 concert performer.
Wonder if Chesney ever wrote a thank-you note to Jimmy Buffett. After Chesney adapted Buffett’s signature approach of laid-back, liquor-fueled beach music, his career began to soar to stadium level. (He has sold 10 million tickets in the past 10 years.)
Wonder if Chesney himself will receive any thank-you notes for his No Shoes Nations Tour performance Friday night at Target Field. Maybe 43,940 thank-you notes. They might say “thanks for”:
• Playing on Friday night, instead of Sunday like last year with Tim McGraw on the Brothers of the Sun Tour. No shoes, no alarm clock, no problem.
• Having a crowd-friendly setup, with flooring and chairs on the field, giant video screens showing up to seven live images at once, beer and booze stands in the dugouts and a crisp, clear new sound system that was so potent that Grace Potter, his duet partner on the recording of “You and Tequila,” could have heard him a mile away as she performed at the Basilica Block Party. (OK, some of us missed the awesome entrance last year when Chesney flew over the crowd on a wire from a tower near second base to the stage in deep center field.)
• Showing control and restraint in his voice. Last year, he seemed so hyperkinetic that his voice was over-amped, too. This time, he was energetic and exciting physically but in control of vocal emotions. In fact, this was his most consistent and impassioned vocal performance in the Twin Cities, with the ballads “Anything But Mine,” “You and Tequila” and the low-key “When I See This Bar” standing out.
• Wearing a Twins cap for the last half of his 105-minute set and reflecting on previous visits to the Twin Cities, including celebrating two of his birthdays in concert here. And, during “Boys of Fall,” bringing Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder on stage to give an autographed helmet to a fan.
• Inviting the Zac Brown Band to join him. It’s hard to top what McGraw did last year, especially since he, frankly, upstaged Chesney. ZBB is a perfect stadium group, a lively, super-savvy bar band that appeals to rockers, stoners, gear heads, women and country fans of all stripes. With their vocal harmonies, versatile musicianship, Brown’s strong lead vocals and fiddle-spiked tunes (including Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”), they thrilled the throng even more effectively than they did at Target Center last fall.
• Limiting the Eli Young Band to a relatively short set. This lucky Texas bar band may have scored two No. 1 country hits, but frontman Mike Eli delivered the new single “Drunk Last Night” with dulling soberness.
• Enlisting Kacey Musgraves to open. She’s a top-notch songwriter who sang about trailer-park life and “Mama’s Broken Heart,” which she wrote for Miranda Lambert.
• Attracting a crowd that leads to the best people watching this side of the State Fair. Concertgoers were tanned, tattooed and toned (well, many of them). And well-lubricated dancing fools. By the by, the local chapter of the No Shoes Nation was not barefoot but wearing flip-flops, cowboy boots, sneakers and sandals — and huge smiles.