Concert review: Kenny Chesney, Eric Church bring the party to Atlanta's Georgia Dome

Anyone want to check Chesney's Fitbit? Photo: Robb D. Cohen/RobbsPhotos.com.
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Anyone want to check Chesney's Fitbit? Photo: Robb D. Cohen/RobbsPhotos.com.

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

Caption
The more than 46,000 fans at the Georgia Dome had ample opportunity to get a glimpse of Kenny Chesney. Photo: Robb D. Cohen/RobbsPhotos.com.

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

The more than 46,000 fans at the Georgia Dome had ample opportunity to get a glimpse of Kenny Chesney. Photo: Robb D. Cohen/RobbsPhotos.com.
Caption
The more than 46,000 fans at the Georgia Dome had ample opportunity to get a glimpse of Kenny Chesney. Photo: Robb D. Cohen/RobbsPhotos.com.

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

BY MELISSA RUGGIERI

Kenny Chesney’s fans know that to attend one of his super-sized stadium concerts is to be inundated with six or seven hours of country music from a hand-picked array of burgeoning stars and already-stars joining the fun.

Even though Chesney took a respite from touring last summer – he previously played the Georgia Dome with the Zac Brown Band in August 2013 – no one expects anything vastly different from his annual traveling circuses.

Much like one of his heroes, Jimmy Buffett, Chesney, at 47 and two decades into one of the most successful careers in country music, has established a devoted fan base that will follow him anywhere. So he could take the lazy way out and stand on stage for two hours and sing the same songs.

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Anyone want to check Chesney's Fitbit? Photo: Robb D. Cohen/RobbsPhotos.com.

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

Anyone want to check Chesney's Fitbit? Photo: Robb D. Cohen/RobbsPhotos.com.
Caption
Anyone want to check Chesney's Fitbit? Photo: Robb D. Cohen/RobbsPhotos.com.

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

But he doesn’t.

Yes, there are similarities from year to year, starting with his seated ride over the crowd from the soundboard to the stage as he launched his latest Georgia Dome visit on Saturday with “Drink it Up.”

And there will always be a requisite sing-along and high-fives in the crowd when Chesney and his six-piece band roll into “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems,” the singer’s own “Margaritaville.”

But it would be a challenge to find a performer who seems to relish being on stage as much as Chesney.

Hop-skipping around the T-shaped catwalk extending from the stage, a compact package in jeans and a sleeveless T-shirt, Chesney was a blur. On his knees, spinning, thumping his chest, hand-slapping fans, flicking the brim of his hat every minute or so and soaked in sweat by the fourth song of the set – the peppy ode to drinking (of course) “Keg in the Closet” – Chesney exuded infectious energy.

He doesn’t have a particularly distinctive voice. But it’s pleasant and gets the job done, whether going low on “Til It’s Gone” from his most recent album and tour namesake, “The Big Revival,” or carrying the anthemic chorus of “Summertime.”

“I’ve been waiting a long time to feel this energy,” he said, hand over his heart. And you knew he meant it.

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Truly, the guy never stopped. Photo: Robb D. Cohen/RobbsPhotos.com.

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

Truly, the guy never stopped. Photo: Robb D. Cohen/RobbsPhotos.com.
Caption
Truly, the guy never stopped. Photo: Robb D. Cohen/RobbsPhotos.com.

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

Chesney has crafted a slick, crisp show that ably weaves in pulsing, nostalgic tributes such as “I Go Back” and the wistful “The Boys of Fall” with firecrackers “Young” and the goofy fan favorite, “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.”

Rare was the sight of a person in the crowd of more than 46,000 sitting down, a testament to Chesney's prowess as a performer. (Side note: Between Chesney's Dome show and The Rolling Stones at Bobby Dodd Stadium , close to 90,000 music fans were entertained in Atlanta the past five days.)

But, even though the blueprint of his concerts doesn’t change, he throws in enough left-field additions to maintain the freshness.

He welcomed Eric Church back to the stage for a duet on the gently chugging “When I See This Bar” and a rollicking “Living In Fast Forward.” But it turns out those were the warm-up for the fiercest surprise – a blazing cover of AC/DC’s “Whole Lotta Rosie” sung by bassist Harmoni Kelley McCarty that featured a blistering solo from guitarist Clay Mitchell and a shot of adrenaline that carried through the rest of the set.

Prior to Chesney’s exhaust-a-thon, that cool cat Church enthralled the crowd with an hour and 10 minute set that began with him walking on stage alone to launch “Springsteen” and ended with a frenzy of spinning lights, screaming electric guitar and the type of double bass drum action you’d expect at a Motley Crue concert during “The Outsiders.”

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Joe "Eric" Cool. Photo: Robb D. Cohen/RobbsPhotos.com.

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

Joe "Eric" Cool. Photo: Robb D. Cohen/RobbsPhotos.com.
Caption
Joe "Eric" Cool. Photo: Robb D. Cohen/RobbsPhotos.com.

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

With his five-piece band and three tiers of amps stacked behind him, Church strolled the catwalk, singing from mic stands stationed at each end, during the slow-building “Creepin’.”

While there’s plenty of rock muscle in his music, his country roots were spotlighted on the twangy foot-stomper “Smoke A Little Smoke.” Church effortlessly worked the crowd – even egging them on with “Do you want to drink a little drink?” – and flashed numerous grins to those in the general admission section closest to the stage.

“That’s Damn Rock & Roll” offered a stinging fusion of rock, country and even rap, while the first notes of “These Boots” prompted many in the crowd to kick theirs off and wave them overhead. Church’s devotees also engaged with “Guys Like Me,” whooping and clinking aluminum beer bottles in a celebration of bro solidarity.

Between his clenched fists and grimaces, it was obvious that Church feels every note he sings and plays, even when slowing the pace on “Wrecking Ball” and “Homeboy,” songs that define the term ‘power ballad.’

Church offers a refreshing blast of originality in a country music market that can get mired in sterility. Where Chesney joyfully sells beach party, Church is all about the dark, grimy pool halls.

Taking the stage before Church – and after opening sets from Old Dominion and Chase Rice – was the success story out of Jefferson, Ga., Brantley Gilbert.

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Georgia native Brantley Gilbert got plenty of love from the hometown crowd. Photo: Robb D. Cohen/RobbsPhotos.com.

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

Georgia native Brantley Gilbert got plenty of love from the hometown crowd. Photo: Robb D. Cohen/RobbsPhotos.com.
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Georgia native Brantley Gilbert got plenty of love from the hometown crowd. Photo: Robb D. Cohen/RobbsPhotos.com.

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

“It’s good to be hoooooome,” he said early in his set. And then, “I know we’ve got some rednecks in the house tonight,” a statement that was met with plenty of affirmations.

While Gilbert’s low, gravelly voice isn’t well-suited for a cavernous venue and he was often overpowered by his five-piece band, the affable singer-guitarist offered a meat-and-potatoes show that featured plenty of Georgia tie-ins.

He cranked up the country-rock for “My Kinda Party,” which he wrote and recorded before Jason Aldean turned it into a hit, and unleashed another Georgia specialty, “Dirt Road Anthem,” a song Gilbert wrote with Athens’ Colt Ford that was also covered by Aldean.

Despite his rough exterior, Gilbert is plenty capable of turning sensitive, as he did on “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do” and the touching “One Hell of an Amen,” written for his deceased friend, Kory Potts (Gilbert mentioned that Potts’ family was in attendance).

Casual fans are likely familiar with Gilbert from his brooding “Bottoms Up,” and the song was a highlight of his set with its lovely acoustic guitar intro and a hearty sing-along from the crowd.

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