January 24, 2004
40 Watt Club - Athens, GA


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  So what happens when one of the biggest stars in modern day plastic country comes to one of the “coolest” clubs in the country? Well…things get interesting. First off, Kenny Chesney is mega. Last year, he was behind only Bruce Springsteen and Dave Matthews in concert ticket sales. He’s just put out a new record, though, and before he heads back to the sheds, he wanted to “get back to basics.” So the Knoxville boy decided to do a few low-key shows for charity (This show benefited Nuci’s Space), hand picked a few college towns to do ‘em in and dubbed it the “Keg In The Closet Tour.” 

  I’ve got to tell you; I only expected the worst. I love country music but I hate what is called country these days. My initial exposure to Chesney was a God-awful tune called “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy”…needless to say; my initial exposure was my last. I didn’t feel like there were going to be any surprises when his band took to the stage and opened with a handful of watered down covers (“Pride And Joy”, “Crossroads”, etc.). By the time Kenny strolled out (big ol’ cowboy hat and all), I was ready to leave. Strangely at about twenty minutes in, I began to notice that I did not, to my utter surprise, hate it. Maybe it was Chesney’s down to earth personality, but as he strolled through 45-straight minutes of massive country hits, I warmed to him. By the time he hit “The Good Stuff,” I was getting it. Sure, it was schmaltzy. But the way it connected with the audience so squarely is still worth something.

  The crowd was more and more responsive, too – frequently interrupting the show with chants of “UGA, UGA!” Kenny just smiled and joined in. No problems. Before long, actual Georgia Bulldogs climbed on the stage to “help” Kenny out. As football players gathered around mics, this was really beginning to feel like a house party. Wow!

  When Uncle Kracker showed up to “duet” on the new single “When The Sun Goes Down,” things really got weird. After shooting the video for the song (which required lots of girls dressed like hula dancers), Kenny and Kracker launched into an hour of crowd favorites, like a well seasoned cover band, they led the us through Kracker’s hits (“Drift Away”, “Follow Me”) and then detoured into a free for all that found them covering John Mellencamp, Kid Rock, Tom Petty, Tommy Tutone and even doing a faithful reading of U2’s “With Or Without You.” By now, even the 40 Watt staff was developing a soft spot for the performer. Every time a new song would start, you’d see their collective smile get broader. Still…you can’t possibly imagine the looks on the faces of the doubters when Kenny, Kracker and crowd slid from the honky tonk sleaze of David Allan Coe’s “You Never Even Called Me By My Name” into an amped up version of Violent Femmes’ “Blister In The Sun” without even a hint of musical whiplash. Surely, this is a sign of the approaching apocalypse. If so, the end will be much more fun than I had always imagined it would be.

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  By the end of the night, Kenny Chesney and Uncle Kracker had put on a Hell of a fun show, shot a video, completely satisfied the audience, made some new friends, changed some perceptions and made a wad of money for a great charity. 


 Let’s see Guided By Voices do that.

 (Chris McKay /

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