Saturday, June 4, 2005
PHILADELPHIA It's an hour and change into the show, the band and the crowd sweating, everybody and everything rocking to a close, before you notice Brown Eyes.
She's about 12 or 15 rows back, in the first row off the floor. She has brown hair brushed back and eyes that sparkle.
Kenny Chesney, in the midst of a duet with Kid Rock, moves to this side of the stage.
Brown Eyes is leaning over the rail. She's clapping on the beat. Then the stage lights move her way and, suddenly, Chesney is looking right at her.
Her face lights up as if her toe got plugged into a socket. She sings back at him, hips swaying, eyes dancing. And it comes over you, standing there by the side of the stage, her voice and 20,000 others creating a din so intense it vibrates from the air into the chest cavity, that this guy from Luttrell, Tenn., may be on to something.
It's a couple hours earlier and Kid Rock breezes into the twilit green room backstage at the sold-out Wachovia Center. Then Renee Zellweger, the Oscar winner whose new film with Russell Crowe opened yesterday, strolls in, calling out, "Hi, guys."
Guys in the band: "Hey, Renee."
And then, tonight's brightest star arrives. Dressed in boots, jeans and a sleeveless blue T-shirt, Kenny Chesney is maybe 5 feet 6, 145 pounds, and 37 years old, a stadium success after all those years playing in gravel-parking-lot juke joints with Christmas lights dangling from the eaves in mid-July. He has a shaved head, clean jaw and piercing eyes.
You can call him a country singer if you insist -- there is that cowboy hat to consider -- but Chesney is an omni-pop-culture phenomenon. Little known outside Nashville six years ago, he has used his power-chord music and cowboy sex appeal to generate a crossover popularity not seen since Garth Brooks. He'll be playing FedEx Field tonight.
Chesney is chatting with Kid Rock, the guys in the band, and it's 10 minutes till showtime. Out front, the stadium monitors are blasting a music video of a shirtless Chesney singing on a Caribbean beach. Girls scream like they just saw Elvis at the taco stand.
"What song do I like best?" Erin Marie Celentano, 18, screams over the noise, incredulous at the question. "He's hot."