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When you know you’re about to see your favourite artist of all time perform live, it’s safe to say that expectations are high.
After resigning myself to the fact that Chesney rarely - if ever - comes over to the UK, in 2021 I fancifully dreamed up plans to make the trip over to the States to catch him on his Here and Now 2022 tour, not really believing they would ever come to fruition.
But after booking the flights, hotels and surviving the last-minute British Airways threats of widespread strikes - the day finally arrived. My girlfriend and I spent a few days in Los Angeles first, soaking up the glitz and glamour of Beverly Hills and Hollywood. As it was our first time in the US together, we thought it wouldn’t be a true American experience without catching a Dodgers baseball game. After trying the world-famous ‘Dodger-dog’ - which the cab-drive had raved about for most of the journey there - in the space of a couple of hours I somehow felt myself transform into a die-hard Dodgers fan, despite (still) not really having a full handle on all the rules.
We then flew to Lake Tahoe, where Kenny’s concert would be taking place. Given the fact that this was an event I’d been anticipating for the best part of a year, I woke up on the morning of the show with a strange concoction of unparalleled excitement coupled with a twinge of sadness at the fact that, by the end of the night, it would all be over.
However, this touches on one of the core reasons why Kenny Chesney’s music has always resonated with me so powerfully. It is a celebration of living life in the moment, of finding the freedom that comes from immersing yourself in the present and toasting the ‘cosmic hallelujah’ of the fact that we’re all on this crazy ride called life together. Many define Chesney’s music by its escapism, and particularly during the pandemic, I repeatedly turned to his sun-soaked, blissful odes to island-living in order to transport myself away from the stress of having to see Boris Johnson ruffle his hair and tell everybody that case rates had once again increased.
Having said this, in my view, reducing Chesney’s music to pure escapism overlooks a key quality of his discography. Yes, he sings about leaving your rigid and rainy 9-to-5 life in favour of a beachside paradise, and songs such as ‘Here and Now’, ‘Summertime’ and ‘Till It’s Gone’ epitomise the sense of joie-de-vivre that Chesney always seems to encapsulate. But what makes his music special, for me, is the fact that it’s not about running from our worries - it’s about embracing them, looking them straight in the eyes, and turning them into the touch-paper that sparks the celebratory fireworks into action. Songs like ‘Save It For A Rainy Day’, ‘Just Not Today’ and ‘We’re All Here’ embody this sense of accepting that we might be stressed, anxious or depressed about yesterday’s or tomorrow’s worries - but that this is all the more reason to lose ourselves in today.
So it was armed with this Chesnian philosophy that I strode into the Lake Tahoe outdoor arena, determined to drink in every last second. Lake Tahoe itself deserves a special mention - on the sweltering drive up to the hotel, both my girlfriend and I spent the majority of the time with our mouths agape at the sheer beauty of the landscape. I’d heard that everything feels ‘bigger’ in America, but I wasn’t prepared for the huge swathes of pine trees cascading down imposing mountain ridges, which would momentarily part to reveal an oasis of crystal clear waters shimmering in the sunlight.
I’m sure my description sounds overblown - but I promise you, it doesn’t do it justice. Travelling up the Heavenly Resort cable-cars to see it all sprawling out below you was a truly overwhelming experience.
Which made it the perfect place to watch a concert geared towards the message of appreciating exactly where you’re situated at in life.
Already feeling energised by Carly Pearce’s commanding opening set, and with more than a couple of Blue Chair Bay rum cocktails under my belt, it was time for the main event. The butterflies in my stomach began doing somersaults as the huge ‘Who Lives Like We Do? We Do!’ curtain began to be steadily pulled up towards the heavens, and a smiling, cowboy-hat-donning Kenny Chesney burst onto the stage.
After he’d shouted his hellos and welcomed the crowd, the first twenty minutes of the set was jam-packed with non-stop, high-octane anthems. He rattled through emphatic carpe-diem power-tracks such as ‘Beer in Mexico’, ‘Reality’, ‘Here and Now’ and ‘Summertime’, without ever giving the energy that fizzled through the crowd a chance to dissipate.
As I said, with the anticipation and expectation being so high, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that part of me had been worried that perhaps Chesney wouldn’t sound the same in real life. He’d released a couple of live albums, but with other Country artists such as George Strait being accused of using Auto-Tune on these kinds of live projects, you never really knew what the real deal would be like. Also, when you have a repertoire of hits as lengthy as Chesney does, it would be easy to hide behind the backing track and let the crowd sing most of the words for you.
However, any niggling fears or doubts that I had were blown right out of the water - you could hear Chesney’s melodic croons loud and clear, and his voice was just as strong as on the recordings. Whenever the crowd was given a brief chance to stop for a breath during the more stripped back songs, such as ‘Knowing You’ and ‘Anything But Mine’, it was just Chesney and some light instrumentation, his vocals on full display.
Everything’s Gonna Be Alright’, Chesney’s collaboration with David Lee Murphy, holds a special place in my heart, so I was ecstatic that he decided to perform it for the Lake Tahoe crowd. Hearing ten thousand people screaming ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Alright’ at the tops of their voices was magical, and epitomised the warm, friendly atmosphere that permeated the venue. Everybody was there for the music. It’s what I always find so special about being at a concert - not many other occasions in life bring together thousands of people to sing, dance and be carefree as they share their enjoyment of the moment en masse.
What struck me most about Kenny Chesney’s performance was how genuine and real he seemed throughout. Although the so-called ‘King of the Road’ has been doing this for decades now and has perfected his routine, he sang every single word like it was the first time. Even his opening words about being glad to have finally returned to Lake Tahoe felt authentic; throughout the entire show, he had a huge, almost giddy smile beaming across his face. The joy that he clearly feels when performing was reflected back at him by his adoring fans - it honestly felt like every single person there, both on stage and in the crowd, was genuinely happy to be there, and happy to be getting the chance to experience this unforgettable night together.
It’s why being a part of Kenny Chesney’s ‘No Shoes Nation’ really does feel like more than just being a member of any other fan group. As cliche as it sounds, being in the No Shoes Nation is a state of mind, it’s an outlook on life, and that’s why Kenny Chesney’s music was really one of the key sparks behind Mindful Melody in the first place. It underlined to me the unique space that lies at the meeting-point between music and wellbeing.
After Chesney had come back out to perform his final song - the fun, light-hearted and uniquely hilarious ‘She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy’, a song that even he had to stop and laugh at in-between lyrics - we still felt a buzz as we filtered out of the venue and onto the streets of Lake Tahoe. I’m so pleased that we chose this location for our first Kenny Chesney concert, rather than somewhere such as Nashville or Boston, because it really did feel as though the entire place had been taken over by the No Shoes Nation. Everywhere you looked there was a Kenny Chesney t-shirt or a Blue Chair Bay rum ball-cap to be found, which only added to the unique and uplifting sense of connection and unity.
We finished our American adventure in the beautiful San Francisco, again marvelling at the spectacular views and landscapes on the bus-ride from Tahoe to Western California. San Francisco felt almost like a Mediterranean city at times, and completely distinct from what we’d seen in Los Angeles or Tahoe. Although, after being heckled a few times for my Dodgers hat by San Francisco Giants fans, I decided it wise to opt for my Universal Studios cap instead for the remainder of the trip…!
It was the kind of once-in-a-lifetime experience that you desperately hope someday becomes twice or thrice-in-a-lifetime. But even though the journey home was coloured by a slight melancholy that the adventure had come to a close, after looking back through my photo-reel and listening again to the lyrics of wistful songs like ‘Don’t Blink’, ‘Young’ and ‘Don’t Happen Twice’, it reminded me just how important it is to focus on the absolute miracle of the fact that it happened at all, rather than feeling sad that it was over.
So although many of us spend our transient lives trying to discover ‘How Forever Feels’, something I’m learning every day is the vitality of turning my sights away from any excitement or anxiety that may lie on the horizon, and instead trying to absorb myself in the ‘Here and Now’. In the words of the man himself:
“Everybody’s waiting, but they’re waiting on what? Better get to living, ‘cause all we got is Here and now!”
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