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April 27, 2008

It's all about the party

Sure, the music is great, but festivities before the concert are the real draw.

After preening for the camera in front of a small crowd, Katie Cook, the host of Country Music Television’s “CMT Insider,” said what a lot of people were thinking.

“I’d like to hang out here all day with you guys,” she told the folks in front of Stefan and Kerry Rathmann’s party bus.

If there was a place to be Saturday before Kenny Chesney’s Poets & Pirates Tour 2008 concert at Williams-Brice Stadium, that was undoubtedly it.

With its “Kennybus” North Carolina license plate, the Rathmanns’ ride stood out in the sea of tents, pirate flags and tiki bars.

The Rathmanns, who live on Lake Norman near Charlotte, sipped Coronas and danced to Chesney tunes with their friends in the sand they brought with them. What put their tailgate over the top, though, was its tented bathroom.

The friends hanging out at the bus — and everyone is a friend at a Chesney tailgate — included Julie Collin and Brandon Berberick, who flew in from Canada, as well as John Kudlack and Adrian Kuhl from Clearwater, Fla.

In his songs, at least, Chesney throws worries to the wind, and these folks do the same.

“It’s not about the music,” Kudlack said. “It’s a way of life. This is my escape.”

As she popped open a beer (there's a bottle opener on the side of the bus), Collin said hanging out with a crowd this big in Canada would be scary.

“I would be nervous at home,” she said. “That’s where fights break out.”

But the only ruckus Saturday afternoon was the scrambling set off by a brief downpour. Tents, especially the ones not tightly grounded, took flight, too.

Lonnie Shelton of Forest City, N.C., and his wife, Jennifer, built a miniature version of their backyard tiki bar, complete with palm tree tops. It was a bittersweet day for them because they also were honoring the memory of their 23-year-old son, David, who died seven weeks ago. David, whose heart stopped after he mixed allergy and sleep medicine, wanted the family to attend the Chesney concert together.

Fourteen relatives and friends made sure David got what he wanted.

Though there weren’t many obvious poets partying at the fairgrounds, there were plenty of pirates — and even a pirate ship, built by John and Beth Waller using John’s 2½-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.

The props were left over from the “Pirates of the Caribbean”- haunted house that Beth Waller, a Halloween fanatic, created last year.

“We put this together last week at the house to see if we could make the ship look right,” said Stephanie Doherty, one of the Wallers’ friends.

When Chesney’s in town, it’s always about the party. Surely that’s why everyone is so dang friendly.

Reach Taylor at (803) 771-8362.

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