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Kenny Chesney recalls his Myrtle Beach connection ahead of the 2017 Carolina Country Music Festival in Myrtle Beach

Kenny Chesney headlines Saturday night at the 2017 Carolina Country Music Festival.
Kenny Chesney headlines Saturday night at the 2017 Carolina Country Music Festival.

Kenny Chesney spends most of his summers on the road, taking his music to fans in jam-packed concert venues across the country. Late last year he announced plans to pull back from a full-fledged tour in 2017, and instead play only a select group of cities. Fortunately, for Myrtle Beach fans, that includes an upcoming appearance at the Carolina Country Music Festival. It’s the perfect setting for the “No shoes, no shirt, no problem” country music star.

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Interestingly enough, Chesney and Myrtle Beach share a little bit of history. Back in late 2004, Chesney shot part of his video for “Anything But Mine” in front of the old Hurricane roller coaster on the Myrtle Beach Pavilion.

“It was a magical night. A long night, but magical,” he recalls. “The midway was so old school and out of time. It spoke to something so romantic. For a song that exists wherever your memory is, it really captured that feeling – whether you’re 21 and leaving that girl, or you’re 70 and still thinking about that other person.”

For Chesney getting back to the ocean is always a good thing. He’s well known for his love of the water, especially the islands. It’s a central theme throughout much of his music, as well as the beach party, easy living, laid-back feel of his concerts. He says his love of the water – and all that comes with it – came early, even though he grew up in Eastern Tennessee.

“When we were growing up, my mom used to take us to the beach. It was such a perfect time. We were on vacation. The living was fun. And the ocean? I fell in love the very first time I saw it. I still am.”

Chesney was born in Knoxville, Tenn., and grew up in the nearby town of Luttrell. He would later go to college at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City. He remembers being influenced, early on, by the country music that surrounded him. And as he listened to the music that was so much a part of his life, he was struck by the depth and meaning of many of the songs. It stayed with him and would be the foundation for his own commitment to the craft of songwriting.

“When I got out of college and went to Nashville, I wanted to write songs that measured up to the standards set by George Jones, Keith Whitley, Willie Nelson, and Merle Haggard. When you hear those artists sing a song, it’s more than just singing – it’s also about their song sense. Every single one of those guys, or Waylon Jennings, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn or Dolly Parton – their songs are them.”

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Chesney’s dedication to songwriting and selecting songs (from other songwriters) that reflect who he is, and his approach to life, are key to why he’s one of the most successful artists today. He’s put a lot of time and careful thought into every song he chooses for an album. It’s the songs and what he shares through them that have allowed him to connect so deeply to the fans he calls “No Shoes Nation.”

His latest album, Cosmic Hallelujah, released last fall is a great example. Songs like “Rich and Miserable,” “Trip Around the Sun” and “Noise” share an overriding theme of refusing to get caught up in the busy world we live in and instead appreciate life at hand. It’s about living in the moment.

“I think it’s a lot of what’s going on in everyone’s life. Everything moves so fast; there’s so much coming at us,” he explains. “It’s about finding that place to take a breath, drink in and savor your life. You know, if you’re so busy with your iPhone, worrying about what you’re missing – what you’re missing is your life.”

One song he co-wrote called “Noise” that illustrates that very point came straight from his own experience.

“I was watching the news, watching the talking heads yelling at each other, texting while I was on the phone…I was trying to hear the creative voices, but it was just too loud to think. So ‘Noise’ started out of a phone call with (songwriter) Shane McAnally. We picked it up – as a song – on the phone as I was on my way to a meeting. Once we started, it just kept tumbling out.”

Chesney sees his music as part of a continuing conversation with his audience. Two songs on Cosmic Hallelujah serve as tributes of sorts that everyone can relate to in some respect. One honors the role of coaches, something important to Chesney who’s always been heavily involved in sports. He notes that most coaches go beyond teaching good sports fundamentals, they teach how to play with others, how to live, offer a listening ear, and often provide a safe place to go for someone in trouble. The other tribute song, called “Jesus and Elvis,” shares the story of a woman who lost a son in Vietnam.

“It’s a song about a real bar down in Austin, where the owner promised her son – as he was shipping out for Vietnam – that she’d keep the Christmas decorations up until he came home on leave. He never made it home, and that place is a living tribute to him. We all have those things that live inside us, and “Jesus & Elvis” is a tribute to that.”

During his career, Chesney has collaborated with a number of different artists, but admits he was especially excited about a duet called “Setting the World on Fire.” It allowed him to pair up with Pink.

“She’s one of the best singers I’ve ever worked with. And it shows you the power of music. Here’s this girl from Philly, who has a pop/rock/hip hop background and I’m a guy from East Tennessee who loved country and Jackson Brown and Tom Petty – and we might never know each other, except for this song.”

It was nice, too, that the song was so successful.

“She came in, and sang so well. It’s all heart with her and you could hear it from the very first note,” he says. “And with all that she’s accomplished, I love that she got to have her first country No. 1 with this song.”

For Chesney whose long list of accomplishments are difficult to keep up with, but include 10 No. 1 albums, 29 No. 1 singles, and a host of other awards, including four CMA Entertainer of the Year wins and four of the same from the Academy of Country Music, life is not only good, it’s very good. And he’s grateful to those who’ve made it possible.

He’s looking forward to heading to Myrtle Beach where he’ll put on another one of his high-energy shows sure to please devoted members of his “No Shoes Nation,” along with those who might be seeing him for the first time. Longtime fans say a Kenny Chesney concert where thousands and thousands sing along with every word to every song and have a blast doing it, is “something else.”