A year after Kenny Chesney’s May 2011 sold-out concert at the Colonial Life Arena, Global Spectrum’s Lexie Boone, the arena’s general manager, felt it was time to bring Chesney back to Columbia. He spent a month or two going back and forth on dates with Chesney’s promoters, The Messina Group.
In September of 2012, Boone called Louis Messina, The Messina Group’s founder, and said, “Louis, it’s time.”
“Let me talk to Kenny,” Messina responded, according to Boone.
“It was probably a week or two and he called me back and he said, ‘Kenny wants to come back to Columbia. But we’re not talking about the arena anymore. Kenny wants to play Williams-Brice Stadium’."
Without hesitation, Boone said, “Let’s do it.”
Chesney will perform at the stadium Saturday. Joining him will be Zac Brown Band, Eli Young Band and Kacey Musgraves. The concert was announced in November and tickets went on sale a month later, a relatively quick process.
The only stumbling block of the booking was that Chesney had a stadium tour package that included Eli Young Band, Musgraves and Eric Church. The arena already had Church booked for a late November concert. Messina, who wanted the stadium show to go on sale by early December, presumably to get in front of the Christmas spending rush, batted names to replace Church around with Boone. They settled on Zac Brown Band.
"Let me talk to Kenny," Messina told Boone.
When Messina called back, according to Boone, he said, “Kenny just got off the phone with Zac. He’s in. And not only is he in for Columbia, but they’re going to do a few other dates together.”
Known for hits such as “Summertime,” “When the Sun Goes Down” and “Don’t Blink,” Chesney will release “Life on a Rock,” what could be his most introspective album, Tuesday. He has built a loyal following, known as No Shoes Nation, who see his shows as a way to escape everyday life. Chesney’s concert here is the day before Cinco de Mayo, so one can except a Margaritaville-like atmosphere, much like it was before his April 26, 2008, concert at the stadium.
But the gigantic margarita pitcher in the stadium, though, will be that Chesney was injured at the kick-off concert of that year’s stadium tour.
As his band played “Live Those Songs,” Chesney emerged from beneath the stage on a lift, but his boot got caught between the platform and the stage, crushing his right foot. He squatted on the elevated platform in apparent agony.
“I thought it was very important to come back to Columbia, South Carolina, and to the University of South Carolina’s football stadium and give them a real show,” Chesney said in a recorded message released to radio in November. “The last time I played there was the night that I broke my foot on the very first song. Everybody was out there having a blast and everybody stayed with me all night, but I felt really bad that I got hurt on the first song.”
This time around, Chesney, who gamely finished the concert, isn’t going to have an elevator on the No Shoes Nation Tour’s stage.
“I’m going to come out and try to put on the best show I possibly can, because I think all the fans there deserve it from the last time,” he said in the message. “So that’s the reason we’re coming back to Columbia.”
The Colonial Life Arena went after Chesney the first time, flying representatives to a concert at Ford Field in 2007 to pitch Messina. This time Chesney came to them. Five days after breaking his foot, Chesney performed at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Tex.
Messina said Chesney was in pain for a month.
“It’s not like Kenny is just standing there,” in concert, Messina said.
Messina recalled that while a doctor numbed his foot before a May 3, 2008, concert at Pizza Hut Park, now known as FC Dallas Stadium, in Frisco, Tex., Chesney expressed his desire to return here.
“I gotta go back,” Messina recalled Chesney saying. “I gotta go back there.”
So he’s back — because he wanted to play Williams-Brice. Not many performers can book stadium tours, Messina said. Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake are co-headlining a stadium tour this summer. Bon Jovi has four stadium dates in July, including a two-night run at MetLife Stadium in the band’s home state of New Jersey. That same month, country singer Jason Aldean has back-to-back concerts in Boston at Fenway Park.
In the early ’90s, Williams-Brice was the site of several shows, including U2, Guns N’ Roses and Paul McCartney. Before Chesney’s concert five years ago, the last person to play there was George Strait in 2001.
“Not even a handful (can play a stadium),” Messina said. “It’s a few. You can’t fill the hand.”
Reach Taylor at (803) 771-8362.