There couldn't have been a much more appropriate venue for Kenny Chesney to open his No Shoes Nation Tour.
The country star stepped onto a stage at Raymond James Stadium that was flanked by two gigantic flags bearing the tour's official logo — a pirate skull and crossbones that looked very similar to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers logo.
The country star came out grinning in his trademark straw cowboy hat and went straight into "Feel Like a Rock Star" before telling the crowd of more than 47,000, "I waited all winter for this."
It all felt true. Not only was Chesney navigating the stage with the ease of a rock star, but he seemed to be savoring the stage. Over a performance that lasted more than two hours, Chesney did everything his fans could have wanted, from singing his time-worn hits with enthusiasm, to holding a Bucs helmet high over his head in respect to the home team.
The massive stage setup for the 42-date No Shoes Nation tour may have even been more impressive than last year’s Brothers of the Sun Tour with Tim McGraw. Four jumbo screens with amazing clarity alternated between live shots from the stage and footage of Chesney and pals partying, relaxing and living it up in the Caribbean.
That island vibe played throughout Chesney’s time on stage, which even started with a video of him singing the chorus from “If You Like Pina Coladas.” If fans want to label him as a country Jimmy Buffet for his easy-livin’ ethos and the epic tailgates he inspires, Chesney seems more than happy to go with it.
If Chesney can be faulted for anything, it’s that his set felt very familiar. But let’s be honest, the reason Chesney’s fans fill stadiums and arenas year after year isn’t because they are looking for anything particularly new or provocative.
Luckily, that’s what Eric Church was there for. Between downing minibar-sized bottles of Jack Daniels in a single gulp to guitar solos that were more heavy metal than country twang, Church’s set injected the show with just enough edginess to perfectly counter-balance Chesney’s super family-friendly routine.
Church opened by telling the crowd, “My intent is to burn this son of a (expletive) to the ground tonight,” and closed with his hit “Springsteen,” which included an amazing country-fied version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run,” which was the highlight of the entire concert.
As for why he chose to open his tour in Tampa for the third straight year, Chesney told the crowd, "Everyone here cares about the music, they're passionate about it. They're passionate about a lot of things, and that's the foundation of No Shoes Nation."