Let the parade begin. Country stars are coming to U.S. Bank Stadium.

Kenny Chesney was expected. After all, he's country's king of stadium concerts (he's back again on May 4). But on Saturday, Chris Stapleton kicked off a run of three new country-affiliated stadium performers.

Stapleton may be one of the most award-winning country artists of the past decade (including 10 Grammys, three for country album of the year, two CMA Awards for top album and seven for best male vocalist) but he doesn't seem to have anything in common with the other new headliners, underground phenomenon Zach Bryan (Aug. 24) and bestselling bad-boy Morgan Wallen (June 20-21).

Stapleton, a 45-year-old straw-cowboy-hat-wearin' Kentuckian, lives in the intersection of blues and country, two cousins in the sense that they can plumb deep emotions in straightforward ways. Stapleton is a master of concision, in conversation, lyrics and music. On Saturday, he was a masterfully expressive blues-rock guitarist, equal parts finesse and fire but never flashy.

As with George Strait, it's not about the showmanship with Stapleton, it's about the songs, vocals and musicianship. The theater footlights and a proscenium curtain backdrop notwithstanding, this was about as frills-free as a stadium show gets.

Stapleton is not a physical performer, but he's forceful. He knows how to make his voice roar, growl and even purr real nice and pretty when he wants to. He owes a debt to R&B shouter Otis Redding and full-volume rocker John Fogerty.

For two hours Saturday, Stapleton sang with deep-felt conviction, unleashing his vocal power in the homestretch on "The Devil Named Music" and "Traveller," the title track of his 2015 debut album. His most impassioned vocal came on "Cold," the heartbreaking power ballad with painfully lonely blues guitar, elevating it to the night's high point. How often is a ballad the best moment at a stadium concert?

Stapleton showed an expressive vocabulary on guitar, with galloping on "White Horse," garage-rock flailing on "Second One to Know," slacker bass-heavy twang on "Might as Well Get Stoned," swampy chicken pickin' on "Hard Livin'," bent-note blues on "Worry B Gone," soulful caresses on "Think I'm in Love with You," rumbling blues-rock on "Nobody to Blame," a boozy bluesiness on "Tennessee Whiskey" and haunting twang rock on "The Devil Named Music."

Missing in action Saturday was Stapleton's wife, backup singer Morgane Stapleton, but on board in the six-man band was harmonica player Mickey Raphael, who is usually with Willie Nelson & Family.

Stapleton, who opened for Strait at the Vikings stadium in 2021, understands the impact of being an opening act in a stadium can have. For his All-American Road Show tour, he tapped Marcus King, a rising blues-rock guitar hero, and Lainey Wilson, one of Nashville's hottest artists who captured top album and entertainer of the year at last November's CMA Awards.

Even though Wilson gave a no-gimmicks performance, it was easy to see why she earned the entertainer of the year prize from her peers.

Wilson, 31, cut a striking figure on the stadium's big screens with her hippie-meets-Western aesthetic of turquoise, fringe, bell bottoms and platform shoes. She was engaging, encouraging and effervescent. And she seemed genuinely grateful about her recent ascent after 13 years in Nashville.

With her unapologetic Louisiana drawl, Wilson imparted wisdom in the empowering "Things a Man Oughta Know" and the confidence-inducing "Atta Girl" (which she introduced by reading a female fan's sign: "I am smart, I am beautiful, I am godly").

She poured her heart into the very mainstream "Country's Cool Again," the Western-flavored "Wildflowers and Wild Horses" (which was introduced by a guitarist playing an instrumental version of "Ghost Riders in the Sky") and "Wait in the Truck," her award-winning duet with Hardy that was rendered as a solo acoustic guitar number enrapturing the suddenly silent 47,000 fans in the huge stadium. And she closed the knockout hourlong set by belting out a big note on her own hit "Heart Like a Truck."

After opening for both Stapleton and Luke Combs at the Vikings stadium in her only major Twin Cities appearances, Wilson is clearly ready to headline her own arena show.