Kenny Chesney cherishes his ties to Boston
When Kenny Chesney’s “Big Revival” tour rolls into Gillette Stadium Friday and Saturday — combining forces with Jason Aldean’s “Burn It Down” outing — he’s sure to remind the sold-out crowds how meaningful the Boston area is to him, and you can be assured that the country superstar means what he says.
Gillette is where Chesney dubbed his fan base the “No Shoes Nation” — after his hit single “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems” — and where a banner bearing that phrase hangs overhead, just like the New England Patriots’ championship and Super Bowl banners.
When the Saturday show ends — as usual, it’s the final show of Chesney’s tour — it will be his 13th performance at the venue, more than any other artist, and he will have sold a whopping 736,149 tickets over the course of eight tours.
“That’s unbelievable, really,” says Chesney, 47, when he hears the figure, speaking by phone from his home in Tennessee. “It’s hard to wrap your head around that number. What we built up there has been built very organically, and it’s been built over time. The relationship that I have with the fans in New England, it’s just so special.”
Chesney attributes the connection to several causes.
“Obviously, I have had a great relationship with country radio there,” he says. Country 102.5 WKLB-FM, for example, has played a long string of his hits — including 27 tunes that reached No. 1 on the charts — from early ditties like “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” to the recent “American Kids,” from the aptly titled “The Big Revival.” Chesney’s popularity has grown in the region, along with the genre.
But he also feels a stronger personal element at play.
“My life really changed in 2002,” says Chesney. “I was spending a lot of time in the Virgin Islands, and the majority of friends that I made there during that time were from New England. And as my music grew, those friendships grew. And my relationship with the [Patriots owners] Krafts — I don’t have that relationship everywhere I go play. They’ve become a lot like brothers, and we have talked to each other over the last several years, in the best of times and in the worst of times, like family does. And then you get to the connection with the fans, and it is beautiful.”
Reflecting on past shows at the venue, Chesney recalls the time several Patriots joined him onstage to belt out Steve Miller Band covers.
There was also one memorably foggy night. “It created this film on my stage so I couldn’t move up there, it was like I was on ice. [Former Patriot] Tedy Bruschi was on the side of the stage, and he and Wes Welker ran all the way from the stage up to the training facility and got a can of Stickum [adhesive spray] and came onstage and sprayed my boots so I could run,” he recalls with a chuckle.
Though the singer-songwriter may famously shun sleeves as a sartorial choice, he chose to wear his heart on them after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.
He reached out to Boston Medical Center to set up the “Spread the Love” Fund — named for one of his songs — to assist survivors who required limb amputations.
“He started it with a personal donation, and as a result of that we’ve raised about $400,000 over the last two years,” says Kristen Gleason, director of operations in the development office at Boston Medical Center. “Right after the bombings, when they started doing publicity for it, donations poured in from all over the country, and they’ve still trickled in over the last two years. And when he sells the ‘Spread the Love’ T-shirts at his concerts, he sends us the profits, so that’s a steady stream, and 100 percent has actually gone directly to the survivors.”
Chesney was distressed when he saw the news of the attack. “I thought what can I do somehow in a small way to try to help? I felt a certain sense of family, just as if something had happened in my hometown in East Tennessee,” says Chesney, who has met with several survivors who have used the money to procure or upgrade their prosthetics.
“We’ve had some great stories,” says Gleason. “One of the survivors was a skier, and he wanted to create special prosthetics so he could go skiing. . . . And then another one last year wrote me back after we sent the check, about how she was having trouble with her insurance getting a better prosthethic, and this was like a great Christmas present because she was now able to afford to buy an upgraded prosthetic.”
Chesney says that the Foxborough shows being the final ones on his tours started as a simple matter of routing. But in the last few years he has intentionally scheduled them that way, as it serves as something of a family reunion for his island friends.
“Honestly, by the time we get to our two nights in Foxborough, our touring family is pretty tired. But it’s our last two nights of the year and we’re in New England, and that crowd always inspires us,” says Chesney.
“It’s become so special and so wonderful that my philosophy on it was, ‘How could we go anywhere else after that weekend?’ ” he says with a laugh. “I want those two nights to be the last two crowds ringing in my head throughout the fall.”