NASHVILLE (Billboard) - By the time he wraps his Sun City Carnival tour at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis September 19, Kenny Chesney will be flirting with his seventh consecutive year of moving a million tickets. Economic crisis or not, the masses are still coming out to see Chesney in 2009.
He is the biggest ticket seller in country music and among the elite touring artists in the world. Since 2002, Chesney has grossed close to $500 million and sold 7 million tickets, according to Billboard Boxscore. Today, Chesney’s drawing power and stature among fans is at a peak and shows no sign of waning.
So how does he weather the storms of fluctuating markets and fickle fan tastes? The deceptively simple mantra is to show fans a great time. Accomplishing that means spending more money on production and support, and keeping ticket prices conservative.
Billboard caught up with Chesney as the native of Luttrell, Tennessee, winds down yet another blowout tour.
Billboard: So how do you feel now that the goal line is in sight?
Kenny Chesney: We feel really good. I’m exhausted, but it’s a good exhaustion, a satisfying exhaustion. We’ve been working on this tour — preparing for it, rehearsing for it — since last October. And that’s the kind of cycle of the last eight or nine years. It’s a good thing. When we’re in front of all those people, when they’re taking everything we give to them and giving it back, that’s why you do it. That takes away any exhaustion you could possibly have.
Billboard: What was the mood like in the audience this year?
Chesney: People are having as good a time as always. It’s almost as if they’re more appreciative that you’re there. We all know, if you watch enough TV, there are a lot of problems in the world, period. I tell the crowd every night that for at least a couple of hours we don’t have to worry about solving ‘em. And that’s about the loudest it gets all night. They don’t want to think about it, they don’t want to watch CNN, they don’t want to hear about health care. They want to play, have fun. That’s what I’ve seen from my perspective.
Billboard: Is it just as simple as making sure fans have a good time?
Chesney: The music has to be there first. But they do have a great time. We always try really hard to give people more than their money’s worth. I know there is an element of them being able to have some sort of relief in their life. I felt the same way when I’d go to concerts. Not that many came to Knoxville, Tennessee, but I was excited when they did because I didn’t have to think about anything else other than the music. Why this year arguably has been bigger than other years in these economic times, I can’t put a finger on that.
Billboard: Are there any songs that you just have to play?
Chesney: Any act has a song they have to play. I feel like it wouldn’t be a night if we didn’t play “Young” — we play that every night. I caught myself a couple of times this year not doing certain things I swore I could never do without. There were two nights this year we didn’t play “When the Sun Goes Down.” One, because of curfew, and two, because I just didn’t want to do it. (laughs) But I feel like “Young” was the song that kind of changed my life, even though I’d been around a few years. That’s the song that brings people down to the sandpit, and it’s the song I look forward to doing every night. It takes the show to a different level.
Billboard: Why did you do that free show in Dallas back in May, after a previous show in the city was cut short due to storms? You weren’t contractually obligated to go back.
Chesney: I didn’t build my relationship with the fans by just doing what I was contractually obligated to do. I built my fan base with a lot of heart and honesty and by giving them everything I’ve ever had. That’s why I went back to Dallas. They stayed in one of the worst storms I’ve ever seen, the same storm that brought down the Dallas Cowboys practice facility. They were out there and they didn’t want to leave, but we had to quit because it was really dangerous for everybody. So I just felt like it was incomplete on my behalf, on the fans’ behalf that were there in Dallas that day. It was an incomplete moment and I wanted to complete it.
Billboard: You tend to do a few less shows every year — is that by design?
Chesney: The last couple of years, that’s been by design. I don’t know if that will continue, but we’ve come up with a pretty good formula down to where we play quite a bit, but I still feel like I can give everything I’ve got. We could definitely do more nights and make a little more money, but for me to be in the zone every night, I think I’ve got the number of shows where I want it. Every tour takes on its own personality.
Billboard: What’s your takeaway from this summer?
Chesney: This year I felt, in a way, more appreciative than ever. The other night in Detroit, right before I walked off stage, I told the fans, “I want you to know that I know what it took for you guys to come here tonight, and I appreciate it.” I have an appreciation for what the fans have gone through this year to see us play. That’s something I’ve thought about a lot on tour this year. I know it didn’t have to be this good, and it was.
The way the world is right now, you should wake up every day and thank God that anybody cares about your music. There’s so many things that get in people’s head. Parts of the business have suffered, but the one thing I think people can’t live without is experiencing the music you love live. That’s what I love about live music, being a part of a shared moment for a couple of hours. It’s like church service. It’s like a revival. The other night in Detroit was like a revival. Unbelievable. All of a sudden they had something to cheer about, and I felt it. You can’t replace that.
(Editing by SheriLinden at Reuters)
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