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Robert Morast, Published June 21 2009

Party trained: Kenny Chesney plays Fargodome

Kenny Chesney is a wedge.

And not just because the country star, who played to more than 14,000 people in the Fargodome on Saturday night, has songs with enough Caribbean influence to offend hardline country traditionalists.

More so, it’s because the stud who’s never met a sleeveless shirt he hasn’t liked is the dividing line between old-school country purists who won’t listen to anything not endorsed by Nashville and the new-school country fans raised in a world where country and rock music sound like siblings who get along.

In Chesney’s world, maintaining a soundtrack that keeps the party alive and the beer flowing is more important than preserving genre party lines. That’s why Saturday night’s concert moved like an energetic iPod playlist melding rock and country without remorse.

From playing AC/DC in the PA speakers before his set to opening his show with the arena-rock cliché of “floating” over the crowd, Chesney rolled enough rock attitude and function into his string of country tunes that even ardent country haters had to be raising their beers toward the stage.

Wearing a black cowboy hat pulled down to his ears and a blue shirt sans sleeves, Chesney’s presence was enough to send the room into a scream fest. But unlike some country acts that let the fire die after two upbeat opening tunes, Chesney kept the mood hot and sweaty through a set list of his greatest hits, each accompanied by delighted, screaming fans.

“Live Those Songs” opened the set with enough references of classic rock tunes to flood the dome with radio nostalgia. “Living in Fast Forward” had a guitar solo fit for the Doobie Brothers. And even though he didn’t end the show with an encore of rock covers (as he’s been doing at some recent dates), the rock vibe pulsed throughout the night.

It started with Miranda Lambert, the second of Chesney’s opening acts, as the Texas firebrand provided a country-rock appetizer with a spirited set starting with her combustible and edgy hit “Kerosene” and covers of Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock N’ Roll” and Rod Stewart’s “Stay With Me,” which she owned. Plus her bassist had his hair in a tall Mohawk. George Jones definitley wouldn’t approve.

But the country purists weren’t ignored. “Never Wanted Nothing More” played like an upbeat campfire toe-tapper; “Me and You” coated the Fargodome’s innards with the smooth, sympathetic romantic longing that’s flooded country charts for the past 15 years; and “Back Where I Come From” was a dance with rural pride every country fan loves – even those raised in big cities.

The crowd favorite “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” plowed up even deeper country roots before an encore of “Don’t Blink.”

If anything was subdued, it was the island influence of Chesney staples like “No Shoes. No Shirt. No Problem” or “Beer in Mexico.” With a crowd that wouldn’t relax, the laid-back nature of those songs was lost in the party energy.

But that’s a problem easily forgotten. Because regardless of whether you take your country straight or chase it with a shot of rock flavor, one thing all country fans seem to agree on is that the party shouldn’t stop. Chesney made sure his party didn’t end until he stepped off the stage and said, “Adios Fargo, see you next time.”

Chesney's set list


Readers can reach Forum Features Editor Robert Morast at (701) 241-5518