Chesney uses break from touring to brew "Whiskey"

Fri Aug 20, 2010 7:30pm EDT
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By Ray Waddell

NASHVILLE (Billboard) - Most of Nashville is dragging under the weight of an unrelenting heat wave, but Kenny Chesney, relaxed in an overstuffed chair at his management company offices, looks rested and laid-back.

Laid-back is appropriate, because it's his no-worries, life's-a-beach vibe, affixed to Garth Brooks-inspired, stadium-sturdy suburban country, that's Chesney's stock in trade. On this day, Chesney is indeed dressed more for Key West than Music Row: shorts, T-shirt, open-toed shoes, no hat.

But it's a bottle of water in his hand, not a Corona, as he talks about putting the finishing touches on a football documentary inspired by his current hit, "The Boys of Fall," the lead single from his new album, "Hemingway's Whiskey," which will hit stores September 28.

"I was in Brett Favre's kitchen, John Madden's house, Bobby Bowden's house, Nick Saban's house, I interviewed Bill Parcells, I've been in Joe Namath's house," Chesney says with the zeal of an every-weekend tailgater.

Chesney admires the discipline and work ethic needed to make it in pro sports, and he shares that nose-to-the-grindstone mentality. He may be rested right now, but that's a highly unusual state for Chesney this time of year and was hardly the case a year ago when he was deep in the throes of yet another mega-tour. The pressures of being hands-on at every level in a run of seven consecutive tours -- each of which moved more than 1 million tickets -- were taking their toll on country music's top touring artist. By September, he surprised fans and the industry alike by announcing he'd give touring a break in 2010.

Chesney says it wasn't a single moment but, rather, a series of eye-opening realizations that led to the hiatus. For the most part, he was happy on the road in 2009, doing what he does best. But there were moments of uncertainty. "I caught myself for the first time in 17 years thinking about connecting with the fans instead of just doing it," he recalls.

"All of a sudden I felt like it was mechanical -- the show, the music, everything -- and it's never been that way," he says. "It's not supposed to be that way. That's not how I built it. That's when I knew it was time for me to back away."

Chesney, 42, says he knew that day would come at some point, given his heavy road schedule and the effort expended onstage. "We had just given to it for so long and so hard," he says, shaking his head. "It would have been really easy to go back out again this year, and I didn't want to press that. I wanted to give people the thing that they deserved the most, and that's all of me. That's why I backed away."   Continued...

<p>Kenny Chesney performs at the 45th annual Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas, Nevada April 18, 2010. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith</p>