In 2008, it was apparent that Kenny Chesney was too big to play at the Colonial Life Arena. So the arena brought Chesney’s “Poets & Pirates Tour 2008” to Williams-Brice Stadium. Here are my favorite moments from covering the concert.
1. I do: Not a moment from the show, but a detail that makes the concert memorable. I missed my college roommate’s wedding to cover the show. Five years later, I still wrestle with that decision. Chesney did break his foot, and my story blanketed the web — well, my reporting, rather, as it was repurposed without credit. Who knew that would be such a problem for newspapers? I was in the wedding party and I didn’t show up. I still received a gift, a Coach money clip. “I wanted to give a practical gift that people would actually use and since you guys are all ballers,” my former roommate wrote.
For what it’s worth, Neil, I balled so hard at the concert that I should’ve been fined. The party was that “cray.”
2. Mantastic: By noon, I had been convinced, by a Corona-drinking tailgating group, to wear a pink T-shirt with the words “Kenny is mantastic” written on the front. I wore it for the rest of the night. I hope I run into those people again.
3. Pirates of the parking lot, part 1: No Shoes Nation, the name given to Chesney’s loyal fans, like dancing barefoot in the sand — at tailgates that have pirate flags flapping in the breeze. Fitting since “Pirate Flag” was the lead single off “Life on a Rock,” Chesney’s album that was released Tuesday.
4. Pirates of the parking lot, part 1: There was a pirate ship at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds. John and Beth Waller built one using John’s 2.5-ton U.S. Army cargo truck. The truck, with its bow created by fabric draped over bent PVC pipe, was a popular attraction with its treasure chests, skeletons and, of course, drinks.
5. Tiki bar: There are Tiki bars, some with palm trees and a lot with imported sand, everywhere. And, it seems, everyone wants to share with everyone else. As long as the sun is out, hanging out at a Chesney tailgate is better than visiting Margaritaville. (Trust me, I’ve been to both many times.)
6. Celebrity appearance, part 1: Chesney, who is known to ride through No Shoes Nation tailgates, appeared the night before at a competition to see who would open his concert. Jon Michaels, one of the contestants, graciously ceded the stage to Chesney who wore cutoff khaki shorts, a USC baseball cap and New Balance sneakers. He performed a playful rendition of “Old Blue Chair.” (By the way, Michaels won NBC’s “The Today Show” jingle contest in January.)
7. Celebrity appearance, part 2: One of the celebrity judges that picked Woodwork Roadshow to open was Jamie Hill, Miss South Carolina USA 2008. Hill, a 2005 USC graduate, was a contestant on 10th season “The Amazing Race” before winning the crown. (The CBS reality show likes S.C. beauty queens. Miss South Carolina USA 2009, Stephanie Murray Smith, competed on the 17th season. She got engaged on the show. And who can forget Caite Upton, Miss South Carolina Teen USA 2007 whose stumbling answer at the national competition made her a star? She was on the 16th season, and the camera loved her.) Back to 2008, Kenny invited Hill to meet him.
8. Inside the action: CMT Insider filmed the tailgating. The Chesney fans outside Williams-Brice appropriately mugged for the camera. Will the cable network return?
9. Ella, ella, ay-ay-ay: Though, if you’re going to the concert, you probably don’t want to consider this, but the phrasing from Rihanna’s hit “Umbrella” is apropos. There was a downpour five years ago that sent people scurrying for cover. Wind swept tents across the fairgrounds. I know where to hide if this happens again — under my umbrella...ella, ella ay-ay-ay.
10. “Live Those Songs” again: Chesney was singing it — the first song of the night — when the injury (his foot was crushed between the stage and the lift that was elevating him from beneath the structure) occurred. “Live Those Songs” is about memories forever associated with songs, and wanting to revisit those moments in time.
After the concert, long after Chesney’s boot was cut off and he was taken to the hospital, some of the show’s crew — promoters, publicists, friends of Chesney and others who had worked that day, including myself — hung out in the stadium’s parking lot. There was pile of ice, a few feet high, taking its time to melt on the asphalt. Hands plunged into the ice to pull out bottles of cold Corona. A bottle opener was passed between friends, acquaintances and people meeting for the first time.
It was the best after-work social I’ve ever been to.