Few Can Rock The Pavilion the Way Kenny Chesney Can

Kenny Chesney and a whole bunch of people excited to see him.
Kenny Chesney and a whole bunch of people excited to see him. Photo by Cory Garcia.
Kenny Chesney, Old Dominion
The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
May 17, 2K18

Six songs into his set, just after the wildly popular “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems,” Kenny Chesney was drenched in sweat. It’s a song that exists to put you in a particular type of laid-back mindset, but he was living a life that was completely opposite of that mindset. Yes, Texas nights are hot and humid, even in May, but it was still early in the show and he was already at the “wring out your shirt when you have a moment” level of physical exertion.

It was a physical manifestation of something that, even early in the set, everyone could feel even if they couldn’t quite describe it. “You can literally cut the electricity with a knife” wouldn’t be a bad descriptor. There was just an energy at The Pavilion, an energy that performers with more mainstream success—hell, country artists that are supposedly bigger and better entertainers—rarely even sniff at. But on this night it was there from the jump, when the band when hog wild with guitar solos right out the gate.

That energy never wavered, no matter how fast or slow the songs became. When they hit “American Kids” late in the set, only a few songs away from the end of the show, the crowd reached a peak so loud it became almost hard to hear what was coming out of the speakers. It was one of those moments where a performer’s face is enough to tell you that something special is going on, even if you’re a complete stranger to his work.

It’s easy, so obvious to be almost lazy, to compare Chesney to Jimmy Buffett. Before the show started, I mused to myself about which pages he had taken from the Buffett playbook and which he had abandoned. I can think of no better metaphor for where they divide than fashion. Buffett looks so comfy on stage, looking every inch the beach bum so many of his songs are about. Chesney had his boots on, and a shirt that fought the good fight against perspiration for about 10 minutes. Sometimes celebrating relaxation requires some chill songs and beach balls. Sometimes it’s about giving everything you can on stage. There’s room for both, but the latter is certainly more engaging.

So, How Was The Opener: Old Dominion have a lot going for them, and Chesney with incredibly generous with what he gave them in terms of time and stage production. Yeah, he also gave them some time on stage with him during his set, but the night started off with him giving them everything they need to position themselves like superstars. Well, almost everything. Their set struck me as incredibly quiet; we were almost on top of The Pavilion before we could hear them, even though they had been on stage for 15 minutes at that point.

Personal Bias: No lie, I don’t think there was a single song in this set that I had heard before the show. My roommate kept giving me that, “you must have heard this one, Garcia,” look, and all I could do was shrug. Hell of a blind spot, I admit.

The Crowd: Summer is here and so is the parade of predictable country fashion. From sundresses to fishing shirts, from short shorts to cargo shorts, from bandanas to baseball caps, and everything in between, it was all on display. The crowd looked exactly like you imagine.

Overheard in the Crowd: “I went all the way to Denver to see his ass,” one lady explained to her friend before the show, as an example of how good a showman Chesney is. She then clarified that she was already in Denver at the time, but still, solid quote.

Random Notebook Dump: For those of you who like to park at the mall and then walk over to The Pavilion, the mall is trying to clamp down on that this year. Or at least the Macy’s is. It didn’t work, because the human need to not pay for parking means we’ll go to wild lengths to get free parking, but good on them for putting in the effort, I guess.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Cory Garcia is a Contributing Editor for the Houston Press. He once won an award for his writing, but he doesn't like to brag about it. If you're reading this sentence, odds are good it's because he wrote a concert review you don't like or he wanted to talk pro wrestling.
Contact: Cory Garcia