Interview: Uncle Kracker on ‘Follow Me,’ Kenny Chesney and Waffle House

He is an opener for Chesney on Saturday, May 18, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Uncle Kracker, who opened for Kenny Chesney in 2011, performs "Drift Away."

Credit: Robb D. Cohen /

Credit: Robb D. Cohen /

Uncle Kracker, who opened for Kenny Chesney in 2011, performs "Drift Away."

Uncle Kracker released a mostly rock-rap album in 2000, “Double Wide,” an effort to carve out a solo career after years as Kid Rock’s DJ. A single, “Yeah Yeah Yeah,” bombed. So his record label Lava/Atlantic decided to push out “Follow Me,” one of the only pop songs on the album.

“The song was originally really dark,” said Uncle Kracker to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution before his visit to Atlanta on Saturday, May 18, opening for Kenny Chesney and the Zac Brown Band at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. “I changed the verses. We paid homage to Motown stuff.”

“Follow Me” became his breakthrough hit, ubiquitous on pop radio throughout 2001. “I remember playing it for Mark McGrath [of Sugar Ray] 25 years ago. Mark laughed and said that was a No. 1 song. He called it. [The record’s producer] Kid Rock didn’t want it on the album.” In fact, the song did hit No.1 on Billboard’s adult pop chart that year.

Uncle Kracker, 49, whose real name is Matthew Shafer, ended up at various awards shows, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Smash Mouth, Shaggy, Christina Aguilera and Jessica Simpson.

“Kid Rock is my best friend,” he said. “He had been running around for three years making fun of these guys. I show up with this song. I did feel a little weird, a little out of place. But once that song took off, there was no stopping it.”

Uncle Kracker started appearing on pop radio morning shows playing acoustic songs, but he had so few usable tunes, Kid Rock suggested he cover Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away.” That became his second top 10 hit.

A few years later, he also landed a hit with “Smile,” a pleasant pop ditty that evokes “Follow Me.”

“I got lucky with that one,” he said. “I love good pop songs. I grew up listening to AM ‘70s stuff. I like a good jingle, something vibe-y, something to sing along to.”

Uncle Kracker’s trademark laid-back vibe meshed so well with that of Chesney, the country superstar reached out to him to record a duet. The result: a No. 1 country hit with the very chill “When the Sun Goes Down” in 2004.

“He was getting ready to play his first stadium show in Knoxville and he invited me,” Uncle Kracker said. Cheney told him, “I’ll send the jet.” “So I got on that jet. I believe I can hang out with y’all for a minute!”

They remain friends. Chesney, he noted, lives two minutes from Uncle Kracker in Nashville. “He’s still the greatest cat,” he said. “He loves everything except getting his picture taken.”

Uncle Kracker is aware of his role at this concert Saturday. He is scheduled to play at 5 p.m., hours before Chesney hits the stage, for a quick seven-song set, before rising star Megan Moroney and then the Zac Brown Band take the stage.

“I’m up first so there are maybe like eight people there, but it fills up quickly,” he said, based on previous concerts in Tampa, Charlotte and Minneapolis.

He later joins Chesney for “When the Sun Goes Down” and “Drift Away” when the stadium is packed.

“At this point, I couldn’t do any wrong,” he said, then added jokingly, “Where were you all four hours ago?”

Besides the weekly stadium shows, he books at least 100 shows a year including a few country fairs. “So many funnel cakes and corn dogs,” he said. “It’s one step above Sea World, but it’s still fun.”

He has no deep connections to Atlanta, he said, but he has consumed a fair share of hash browns at Waffle Houses when he visits. He was not there when Kid Rock got into a fight with a patron at an Atlanta Waffle House in 2007. (The singer ended up getting probation.)

“I can’t tell you how many fights I’ve seen late night at Waffle Houses,” Uncle Kracker said, adding, “I’ve not been in one myself.”


Kenny Chesney, Zac Brown Band, Megan Moroney, Uncle Kracker

5 p.m. Saturday, May 18. $29-$230, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, AMB Drive NW, Atlanta.