Though Kenny Chesney is a touring phenomenon - selling a million tickets each of the past six years - his Sun City Carnival Tour will mark his first stop at the Nikon at Jones Beach Theater .
"I've never played Jones Beach, and I thought I'd played everywhere," Chesney said, calling from his Nashville home during a short tour break. "The first time's always the best, right?"
Well, area fans are certainly eager to find out, especially as Chesney celebrates the success of his second greatest-hits package and his new crossover hit "Out Last Night."
New York country fans don't get to see their favorites very often. Why did you decide to come out here this time?
When you're doing the road like I have for so many years - I've been on the road for 16 years - we're trying not to repeat markets and if there's any places we haven't played, we want to get to them . . . For me, [New York] is great. But I have a different audience. I have a very eclectic group of people that might not go see somebody else in my genre. I think a lot of people in our audience live by the rule that we live by on the road: We work harder and we play harder.
With your second greatest hits coming out, did you get to look back at how far you've come since the first one?
Since the first greatest hits album came out, my life and my world and my reality changed. I've had a lot happen to me over the years . . . Some of the earlier songs, I would sit there and edit myself and say, "Why didn't you do this?" as far as production. In the studio, I do things a little differently now . . . But I never let myself get complacent. And I don't pause, so putting this together gave me a chance to do that.
Are there any songs on there that you think of differently now than when you recorded them?
The song "Young" still holds up. It was the first song that really kind of started this journey that we're on - at this level. It's really weird to have your first greatest-hits album come out and have nobody know who you are. (Laughs.) People knew the songs, but they hadn't yet had a burning image in their head that married an artist, a song and a sound. That hadn't happened to me yet. But when "Young" came out, it changed everything. That song changed my life in a lot of ways. And it's still my favorite song to do live.
"Young" is the song that first bonded you to your audience, where you were speaking for them.
That started that. But that had to come from me first. I was making a lot of records that sounded good on the radio, but didn't really mean anything to anybody, up until then. That's because that was my thought process. Like a lot of people are, I was just trying to get on the radio. It was kind of hollow in a way to have all those songs that did really well, and I had a pretty good show. But as an artist and as a person, it was almost a hollow existence because people weren't seeing anything about me. On the "No Shoes" record, it was the first time when I felt confident enough to put some of my life into the music and some of the songs I wrote. . . . That's the first time when not only were people listening to these songs on the radio, but they were living with them. That's a big difference.
Did that success encourage you to take the risks you have with your most recent albums?
Without a doubt. I didn't make the "Lucky Old Sun" record thinking these songs were going to be on the radio because it's a really laid-back record and a soul-searching record. . . . It was something I really wanted to do and I almost had to do as a songwriter. I think artists should be able to do what they want sometimes instead of just the stuff that they have to.
And with that album, you worked with the Dave Matthews Band and The Wailers. Are you trying to expand the idea of what can be called country music?
I wasn't necessarily trying to make anyone see anything. I think that my audience listens to more than just country music . . . He had a night off in Atlanta and we were playing . . . One of my favorite Dave songs is a song called "Where Are You Going," and I love that record. I said, "You should come out and do that song and we'll do a Marley song or something," and he was legitimately scared that my audience wouldn't know who he was. He walked out on stage and I introduced him as "From Charlottesville, Virginia, my friend Dave Matthews" and the crowd went crazy. You could tell it was a relief off his shoulders. That's when we both knew that they may be listening to a Kenny Chesney record, but they're also listening to a Dave Matthews record. We share an audience of people who just love music . . . Of course, I love my core country audience. But we just played Soldier Field . . . and you can't do that with just that audience . . . I think that's what's so great about music. There's a lot of differences in the world. The world is full of hate. It's full of this, and it's full of that. The world's got a lot of problems. But everybody listens to music. That's the one commonality. And that's what I love about my audience.
Do you think it's your ability to tap into that commonality that accounts for your success?
I do. That's gotta be it. And we've been able to get our hands on some songs that make people feel good and make 'em think. That being said, I don't think people come to my show searching for the meaning of life. I think that they just want to be in the moment. I don't think "escape" is the right word. I think they're in tune with their lives and that they just want to sidestep it a little bit.
WHO Kenny Chesney
WHEN | WHERE 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nikon at Jones Beach Theater, Wantagh
INFO $42.50-$78; 516-221-1000; Buy tickets
Soldier Field, Chicago, June 13
"Live Those Songs"
"Beer in Mexico"
"Keg in the Closet"
"Out Last Night"
"No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems"
"I Go Back"
"Anything but Mine"
"Me and You"
"There Goes My Life"
"Living in Fast Forward"
"Never Wanted Nothing More"
"Back Where I Come From"
"Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven"
"When The Sun Goes Down"
"Don't Happen Twice"
"She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy"
"Take It Easy"
"Last Dance With Mary Jane"
"Hurts So Good"