Concert review: Jimmy Buffett loomed large over Kenny Chesney’s U.S. Bank Stadium show

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The spirit of Jimmy Buffett was in the house Saturday night when Kenny Chesney headlined U.S. Bank Stadium for the third time.

When Chesney’s career started taking off in the late ’90s, he took a page from Buffett’s playbook and began focusing as much of his attention on building a brand as he did making music. He’s created a sort of fantasy land called No Shoes Nation where the water is blue, the bikinis are skimpy and the drink of choice is Chesney’s own Blue Chair Bay rum. And like Buffett, who died in September, Chesney’s vision relies on island escapism vibes and heavy drinking.

As such, it wasn’t as much a concert as it was a mini festival, with some fans on the premises for seven hours. Doors opened at 4 in the afternoon at the Vikings stadium, where Nashville newcomer Megan Moroney and Chesney’s longtime buddy (and Kid Rock’s former DJ) Uncle Kracker played opening sets.

Chesney typically tours with a fairly big act in tow and this time around it was the Zac Brown Band, who previously toured with Chesney in 2013, when they hit Target Field together.

Without the pressure of a headlining set, Zac Brown Band turned in a bit looser and more casual show than usual with Brown grinning throughout. As usual, hits like “Chicken Fried,” “Homegrown” and “Toes” sounded terrific and kept the audience glowing.

Also as usual, the group indulged in a surprising number of covers. Of course they played “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” which has long since been a staple of Zac Brown Band concerts. But, oof, some of the other choices were ill-advised. The only reason I can come up with for the garish mashup of “You Can Call Me Al” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” is to give the three-piece horn section that augmented the nine-person band a moment to shine. In a wise move, Brown let his bandmate Jimmy De Martini handle the rapping for their tragic take on “Sabotage.”

The band did play their latest single, the perfunctory “Tie Up,” as well as “Pirates and Parrots,” a song they wrote as a tribute to Buffett. And they followed it up with 2011’s “Knee Deep,” a collaboration with Buffett.

Buffett popped up yet again in the lengthy video introduction (and Blue Chair Bay rum advertisement) to Chesney’s set. From there, it was pretty much the same show Chesney performed in the stadium in 2018 and 2022. The set list drew largely from 1999 to 2012, an era where nearly every single he released hit the Top 5 if not No. 1. That’s not the case for Chesney these days. His latest release, “Home,” is his lowest-charting album in decades. The audience gave its sole single, “Take Her Home,” a tepid response at best.

For much of his current tour, Chesney plays just one night a week, so he turned in a high-energy performance full of goofy dancing and athletic sprints up and down the massive stage. But at 56, Chesney has lost some of his vocal power, and he was never the strongest singer to begin with. At times, he sounded flat and skipped notes, most notably during the main set’s final song, “How Forever Feels.”

Buffett held onto his following as he got older and the hits stopped, and despite his issues, it seems Chesney will as well.

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