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Summer's hot ticket: country music
Seattle Times music critic
Let's party! Summer's here and the time is right for dancing ... at Qwest Field?
That's right. The biggest bash of the year is going to be there June 24, when Kenny Chesney, country music's party animal, rolls into the stadium with his "The Road & The Radio Tour 2006," turning it up for 50,000 of his closest friends.
The biggest summertime concerts in the Northwest have always featured rock stars. But this year is all about country music. Fans are flocking to country's good-times, angst-free vibe: honky-tonk songs about fun, women, cars, family and the occasional heart-tugging yarn. State-of-the-art concert production has upped the appeal even more.
Chesney's tour showcases all of that, with some of country's hottest young stars: Gretchen Wilson, Big & Rich, Dierks Bentley and local boy Blaine Larsen. Only the Dave Matthews Band's three-day stand in September at the Gorge Amphitheatre near George, Grant County, could top it, with a potential total of 66,000 ticket sales.
At Qwest Field, expect lots of cowboy hats, halter tops, pointy boots and real blue jeans, the kind with rivets. And on stage, country's out-of-control hillbilly rock star, Chesney, will put on a show that pulls out all the tricks that used to be the strict domain of rock 'n' roll. Enormous video screens, huge stage, pyrotechnics, fantastic lighting effects — the whole wagonload. And this crowd will not be sedate, friends. There'll be whooping, screaming women; fist-pumping urban cowboys; and plenty of hand-to-hand contact with their hero, who's ruling over the summer concert scene like no one else.
Ticket sales topped 32,000 the day Chesney's concert went on sale April 1, and sales continue to be brisk.
"For us, if we're not on that stage, rocking the kids, it doesn't quite seem like it's time for school to get out, the temperature to go up and the sun to keep shining," Chesney said in a statement released the day after tickets went on sale. "So it's very cool to see this kind of response, especially to the stadium shows, so early."
Country shows this summer
Trace Adkins, Aug. 31, Evergreen State Fair, Monroe; details to be announced (www.traceadkins.com).
Chesney is playing several NFL stadiums on the tour, and he's one of few performers who can. His Caribbean-flavored music is perfect for the summer scene, and he's even been known to head to the parking lots and hang out with tailgaters before the show.
"He is kind of the king of country music for the moment," according to Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of PollStar, a concert-business weekly.
"There isn't much of a stadium concert business left in America," Bongiovanni said. He said the astronomical ticket prices that big acts like Madonna, the Rolling Stones or Paul McCartney can command means they can play indoor venues and make as much money as they used to make playing stadiums. Stadium shows are more costly to produce, Bongiovanni said, because a lot of extra equipment needs to be trucked in and installed.
Country seems to be reaching a new peak in popularity. On the current Billboard 200 chart of best-selling albums, 36 are country. Country station KMPS-FM (94.1) is the top-rated radio station in the Seattle market. Newcomer KKWF-FM (100.7 "The Wolf") began broadcasting in December and aims for the 20-year-olds who are new to country.
"The average age of the [country-music] listener is coming down," explained Scott Mahalick, program director of The Wolf. "We reflect where country music is right now."
The Wolf is presenting the Chesney show and will be broadcasting from the stadium on the day of the concert, starting at 10 a.m. The station has already broadcast interviews with all the show's stars.
While radio is key, videos are also a big part in young country. And they're sexier and more daring than rock and even gangsta-rap clips. Country Music Television is showing videos like Trace Adkins' "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk," which is as sexy as anything on MTV or BET.
One of the reasons country has become so big: It's taken over lots of rock's territory. Rock-guitar solos? They're out of favor in rock but essential to young country. Melody, harmonies and the craft of songwriting, especially love songs and tear-jerkers, have mostly shifted over to country. Rock is for teens and adolescents. Country is for 20- and 30-somethings. If the sun shines on June 24 — which may be a long shot in Seattle — expect lots of tight young bodies to be on display at Qwest Field.
Patrick MacDonald: 206-464-2312, email@example.com
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company