When does summer start? You might say the summer solstice, or Memorial Day or when schools let out, but you would be wrong. Summer starts when Kenny Chesney plays a concert.
There was no official proclamation, but for the 13,125 fans in attendance at Wells Fargo Arena it was clear the season had started. Cold beers were grasped while Chesney sang songs about parties, flip flop weather and chill situations in general.
Chesney's set started off a little odd, first with a video full of quick cameo appearances by people like Dick Vitale, Matthew McConaughey, Willie Nelson, Vince Vaughan and other seemingly random celebrities while "Guitars and Tiki Bars" played. From there it cut to a voodoo ceremony/second line fusion clip inviting the crowd to "feel the vibration of the No Shoes Nation."
From there Chesney's actual performance started, kicking off with "Drink It Up" off 2014's "The Big Revival." It was the first of many drinking-themed songs of the night. Chesney has his formula, but it works well and fans eat, er, drink it up.
"Des Moines, Iowa, it has been too long," Chesney told the crowd after finishing his second song, "Reality," as he strapped on his guitar for "Beer in Mexico."
Chesney last played Wells Fargo Arena two years ago, so it wasn't really that long since he visited, but he was quick to apologize for any perceived slight. "It's been awhile since we played here, for that I apologize."
The songs flowed quickly, with Chesney and his band performing nearly two dozen hits. "Summertime," "Pirate Flag," "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem" and more were hit with thunderous roars from the crowd. He was backed by a six-piece band, but Chesney took some moments to himself, playing "Old Blue Chair" solo for the crowd.
He also gave his band lots of love, especially bassist Harmoni Kelley McCarty, who sang lead on an extended cover of AC/DC's "Whole Lotta Rosie." Chesney's casual country style has been incorporating other styles for years, but for that one song it was pure arena rock.
Opening act Chase Rice worked some of that into his set as well, taking the stage while his band played the opening riffs of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs," which sounded pretty good, though a latter attempt at the riff's of Rage Against the Machine's "Bulls on Parade" didn't translate as well. Rice said it was his first show in Iowa, and he had his moments. Of particular interest to the crowd was his version of Florida Georgia Line's "Cruise" (which Rice co-wrote) and his hit "Ready Set Roll."
Second opener Jake Owen got 45 minutes to continue warming up the crowd. A highlight was a new song, "Real Life," acoustic for the first time, pointing out that he had friends from Dubuque in the crowd who had helped him move to Nashville. "If it wasn't for Iowa, I wouldn't have a career."
After playing his hit "Barefoot Blue Jean Night," Owen segued into the theme song to "The Fresh Prince of Bell Air." Owen's rap skills aren't especially impressive, but it was fun and went over well with the crowd.
Chesney let his own set get heavier toward the end, with songs like "Anything But Mine," "How Forever Feels" and "The Boys of Fall" giving the night some gravitas. After leaving the stage briefly, Chesney returned for an encore of "You and Tequila (Make Me Crazy)" and "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy," joined by Owen and Rice for the latter song.
''Even though it's a Thursday night, this is the loudest crowd we've had. Thank you. We want to bottle you guys up and take you with us the rest of the summer, if that's OK," Chesney told the crowd.
The crowd seemed like it would have been up for continuing on.