Chicago Cubs Hall of Fame shortstop Ernie Banks was well known for his enthusiastic declaration: "It's a beautiful day. Let's play two." In baseball, that meant a double-header of two games in one day.
The music-business equivalent took place Sunday at Target Field in Minneapolis: a twin bill featuring country superstars Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw, the latest stop on their 22-stadium Brothers of the Sun Tour.
It was a beautiful day (and evening) for the first concert at the new Twins ballpark. It turned out to be a condensed version of the We Fest -- minus the long drive and the camping. Not surprisingly, the 40,000 cowboy- and cowgirl-hat-wearing fans consumed beer like they were fearing an imminent last call. By the time Chesney got onstage during the six-hour event, many revelers were stumbling around like they were at a Jimmy Buffett show, batting beach balls in the air.
They rose to the occasion, though, when Chesney kicked off the nightcap of the double-header by emerging atop a platform at second base for "Beer in Mexico." In mid-gulp, he hopped on a swing on a wire and rode over the crowd to the giant stage deep in centerfield. Now that's one of the most exciting stadium entrances I can remember.
As always, the hyper Chesney started in fourth gear, chugging down "Beer in Mexico," singing too fast on the ensuing "Keg in the Closet" and sounding wired on "Summertime." He was so amped that he almost seemed like he was hyper-ventilating when he was talking between songs.
Chesney dialed it down for the aptly titled "Reality" and the always winning "No Shirt No Shoes No Problem" (a Western swing disguised as an island tune) -- the kind of breezy, easy songs with good-time vibes that he specializes in. But, for some reason, he downshifted too long into ballad land in his oddly paced 100-minute set. "Come Over" and "Somewhere with You," two poignant ballads from his last two albums, suffered from melodic monotony. Moreover, while Chesney's voice can be effective on ballads on recordings, it lacked the oomph, range and nuance to conquer a stadium.
The country superstar, 44, consistently impressive with party spirit at several Xcel Energy Center concerts in the past decade, got his bearings back on the encore when McGraw joined him for their recent ebullient hit duet "Feel Like a Rock Star." Next, they collaborated on each other's cheesiest and early hits -- Chesney's "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy" and McGraw's "Indian Outlaw" -- and it felt like two buddies who came to stir the straw in the drink of the summer's best baseball party.
And then the two long-time friends took it on home with a cover of Jackson Browne's "Running on Empty," featuring Kenny Greenberg's endlessly expressive guitar.
Without question, award McGraw, the son of the late World Series champion relief pitcher Tug McGraw, a save for Sunday's Brother of the Sun show. In fact, give him the MVP award for the whole day.
McGraw batted third (after Jake Owen and Grace Potter) -- or rather he was the headliner of the opener -- and hit a homerun. He was perfect for the party-loving crowd because his music is occasionally muscular but he's never macho. Sure, dressed in all tighty whiteys (save for his black cowboy hat), he was toned and tanned like a cowboy in a Coppertone commercial.
McGraw, 45, opened aggressively with "Felt Good on My Lips" and "Down on the Farm." But there was enough tenderness with ballads like "Unbroken" and "Better Than I Used To Be" to make sure that he connected with both the gals and the guys in the crowd.
He clearly knows his ways around stadiums -- both from hanging out with his dad in Major League ballparks and opening for country giant George Strait for three years in the 1990s. In fact, this Brothers of the Sun show was the first country stadium concert in the Twin Cities since Strait filled the Metrodome in 1998 with McGraw and his wife, Faith Hill, among the opening acts.
The openers Sunday were Owen, a rising country star known for "Barefoot Blue Jean Night," and Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, soulful rockers from Vermont who are best known for Potter joining Chesney on his hit, "You and Tequila" (which, surprisingly, they didn't sing Sunday).
Owen turned to covers of Alabama hits to invigorate the crowd. Potter used a little of ZZ Top's "Tush" to enliven things. She's more soul-rock than country, but, still, the leggy dancing dervish with the Joplinesque voice triumphed, convincing the crowd that she's "the little sister" to the brothers of the sun.
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719 Twitter: @jonbream