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Chesney rocks Ray Jay

Published July 2, 2006

TAMPA - It's been five years since a concert took over Raymond James Stadium, half a decade since boy band 'N Sync preened and pirouetted through the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' home.

Saturday brought a very different spectacle, one seemingly a little more appropriate for the blue-collar sports venue.

It was the Kenny Chesney & Friends show, an extravaganza built to attract country music fans by the tens of thousands - which is exactly what it did.

Sure, the New Sombrero provided room for more fans of Chesney, Gretchen Wilson, Big & Rich, Dierks Bentley and American Idol titlist Carrie Underwood to attend.

And it's not like the usual suspect - Ford Amphiteatre east of Tampa - was available. Kelly Clarkson (take that, Underwood) was playing there, as anyone who was caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic between the two shows on Interstate 4 could tell you.

But while Chesney (and friends, of course) might make for a big enough draw to fill a healthy chunk of a football stadium, it still detracted from the experience.

That's no knock on Ray Jay or any other similarly sized venue. It's just too big. And no number of video screens (Chesney had plenty) or stacks and stacks of speakers (ditto) or acrobatics around the stage (that lil' guy sure gets around) could change that.

Chesney gave it the full effort he's known for, but it's a gigantic place and he's - not a gigantic man. He's more a sleeveless, supremely smooth-skinned man in jeans tight enough to act as little blue tourniquets.

But he's in the pantheon of country's biggest stars, despite - or perhaps specifically because - he hasn't really crossed over. Though he harkens close to the mainstream country, he's never really gone pop, never strayed from the Nashville nest. Fans whose dials rarely stray from WQYK-FM have an icon they don't have to share with the Top 40 crowd.

Outside of the country music fan base, most Americans at best have heard show highlights such as She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy and maybe the title cut to the 2002 album No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems. But most likely, they know him as that guy who was married to Renee Zellweger for about 30 seconds.

Still, Chesney's live show does break out the full-on rock-show bombast that, well, you pretty much need to reach the cheap seats at Ray Jay.

The sun was down but the heat and humidity still heavy when Chesney broke into the kind of arena-friendly tunes that get the crowd on your side fast, particularly country No. 1 hit Summertime.

Big & Rich had the type of rocking show that played best to such an expansive area, though an informal poll of fans indicated Wilson, who also leaned toward rock, and romantic young crooner Bentley had the most rabidly-adoring fans.

[Last modified July 2, 2006, 03:27:54]

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