Kenny’s Columbia comeback

otaylor@thestate.comMay 4, 2013 

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Kenny Chesney’s return to Williams-Brice Stadium was triumphant, and it was apparent early in the afternoon that the threat of poor weather wasn’t going to keep No Shoes Nation, the name given to Chesney’s fervent fans, from hanging out with their best friend. Hours before Saturday’s concert, they arrived to party at the pre-concert tailgate called KennyGate.

Though official numbers won’t be released until this week, organizers estimated the attendance at 45,000, an impressive number since walk-up ticket sales may have been hampered because of the cool temperatures. The following are a handful of observations from the daylong event that began at 10 a.m.

Get on the good foot: On the very first song of his 2008 stadium concert, Chesney broke his foot because of a stage malfunction as he was lifted from beneath the structure. There weren’t any such problems this time around, as Chesney chose a simpler entrance by just standing at center stage. Before he appeared, there was a video montage that included a shot of him at the top of the stadium wearing a USC Gamecocks helmet.

Rain, rain, go away: It was the misty, annoying rain. Poncho and baseball cap rain. Not run-for-cover rain. Those who opted for shorts and short sleeves or dresses and cowboy boots, probably regretted the wardrobe decision by nightfall. When Chesney last played the stadium, a tent-blowing storm kicked through the area, dampening the festive atmosphere for not longer than an hour. By the time Chesney played Saturday, the rain had stopped.

Monster truck: Most of the doors on Jack Payne’s truck were open as “Chicken Fried” by Zac Brown Band pumped hard through speakers. It was as if his custom-built Ford truck was in a car show because people kept stopping for pictures and asking to peek inside. More of a tank than a truck, the F-650 model, which seats 10, had bottles of liquor on the truck’s tail. Instead of a Ford emblem on the grill, Payne has “Pain” in Ford’s font. Below it a No Shoes Nation vanity license plate. What makes Chesney so great?

“Life,” said Payne, who has owned the truck for three years. “You can relate to his music.”

Pirate flag: Kenny Gate was a place for people to share laughs and food — and to buy pirated merchandise. As he broke down his tent to pack his truck before going into the stadium, Justin Holder was approached by a woman who wanted to buy his pirate flag. Hours before, Renee Allen had scoped out the flag with the words “Surrender the Booty” on it.

“Can I give you $20?” she asked Holder. He agreed, but not before she tried to talk him down to $10.

“I feel like I got ripped off,” she said. “That was too easy. I got the coolest pirate flag in town.”

Dodging rain drops: Organizers of the Rosewood Crawfish Festival, which had to move its date back a week when Chesney’s show was announced late last year, were just fine with yielding the dreary forecast to Chesney. But now they’re on the no rain prayer clock.

Reach Taylor at (803) 771-8362.

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