It’s something that Denver country music fans wont soon forget: Their favorite cowboy hat-wearing musician along with their hometown helmet-wearing football hero together on stage at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The crowd on Saturday was in a frenzy as Kenny Chesney and Peyton Manning signed a helmet and deposited it onto the head of an overwhelmed girl during the Denver stop of the “No Shoes Nation Tour.”
The concert brought Chesney, Eric Church, Eli Young and Kacey Musgraves to the Rocky Mountains, and the beer and boots crowd came out in droves, reducing the downtown commute to a crawl and turning parking into an endless game of hide and seek. As a result, I missed Eli Young and Kacey Musgraves’ acts completely.
Upon entering the packed stadium, I was greeted by a pair of towering skull and crossbones banners bookending the stage composed of a massive 50-foot wall of strobing lights. These would later convert to video screens to make the miniscule figures on stage larger than life for those in the opposite endzone and up in the nosebleeds.
Eric Church soon took the stage, and as he launched into “Creepin’,” it sounded like the Broncos had made a touchdown. Drinks raised to the sky, beach balls littered the crowd and the party got a little louder. While Church projected a hell raisin’, banjo slingin’ outlaw persona, his supporting guitarists were oddly working from the rock show concert playbook. There’s just nothing country about a Thin Lizzy t-shirt, PRS guitars and power chord poses. With songs like “Drink in My Hand,” “Jack Daniels” and “I’m Getting Stoned,” Church set out to kick the somewhat squeaky-clean stereotype of country in the ass. Based on the crowd’s reaction, I’d be willing to swear on the red solo cup he succeeded. Though more NASCAR-driving rebel than white horse riding sheriff, Church balanced the darker shades of his show with such lighter tracks as “Like Jesus Does,” “Springsteen” and “These Boots.”
Despite being the man of the night, Chesney made an anti-climactic initial appearance on stage to “Feel Like a Rock Star.” It didn’t matter, though, because had the crowd with his straw hat, jeans and sleeveless Broncos t-shirt with “Mile High Magic” written on back.
Chesney played to the affections of the Denver ladies all night, referencing wet Red Rocks shows and constantly flashing an “Aw Shucks” grin as he collected hats, shirts and an astounding number of colorful braziers throughout the efficiently delivered performance. The predictably safe set list included a large number of Chesney’s radio hits, including “Summertime,” “Pirate Flag,” “When I See This Bar” and “No Short, No Shoes, No Problem.”
While Chesney may have seemed to love being loved just a bit too much, he was undeniably generous with his fans. Not only did concertgoers get four different acts for one ticket, but his set alone spilled more than two hours and concluded with an extended instrumental break from “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy,” during which he signed an acoustic guitar, pulled up a girl onstage and handed it to her with a hug. The band continued playing while he Sharpied dozens more hats, shirts and whatever else the front row could hand him.
Alan Cox is the president/creative director of Cox Creative, a Highlands Ranch-based creative shop. He works too much, sleeps too little and spends every free moment coaching baseball, shooting images and hanging out with his rowdy sons and rowdier wife. Check out his photos here.
Steve Hostetler is a Denver-based photographer and new contributor to Reverb.