How did country music take over show biz?
The short answer is Garth Brooks; but you can see Kenny Chesney’s fuller reply tonight at the Times Union Center (51 S. Pearl St., Albany) as he launches his “The Big Revival” tour.
Chesney is near Brooks-ian in success: He’s the only country artist in Billboard’s Top 10 Touring Acts of the Last 25 years and has won numerous Billboard Touring Awards. His new recording, “The Big Revival,” is his 13th album to top BillBoard’s country charts.
Like Brooks, Chesney took a break from the big time, but was only off the road for two years while Brooks left the spotlight to focus on family for 14 years. Both have had tabloid-intensive marriages, but Brooks’ decade-long marriage to second wife/singer Trisha Yearwood has also lasted far longer than Chesney’s less-than-a-year-long, annulment-terminated union with actor Renee Zellweger.
Both are philanthropists, generously supporting numerous charities.
Both are generous to their fans, and that’s where the rubber meets the road.
Country artists give good value. Records are made as well as they are skillfully sold by the highly efficient Nashville marketing machinery. (Both Brooks and Chesney have degrees in advertising.) Onstage, first-class production (sound, lights, video) is a given. More important, country artists invest in value in their players, too. As John Sebastian (the Lovin’ Spoonful) wrote in “Nashville Cats:”
“Well, there’s thirteen hundred and fifty two/ Guitar pickers in Nashville/ And they can pick more notes than the number of ants/ On a Tennessee ant hill.”
Chesney’s Nashville cats road band, for example, often includes a strong horn section starring ace trumpeter Steve Herrman, who toured for years in Waylon Jennings’ great band. Nashville’s talent supply is constantly self-renewing as players and singers migrate there. (Younger ones gravitate to East Nashville, which is fast filling with hipster stingy-brim hats, Biblical beards and neo-quaint coffee shops as it becomes a “new Brooklyn.”)
On a Nashville country-bar pub crawl en route to New Orleans a few years ago, my Jazz Fest runnin’ pardner Dennis met up with Rich Gilbert, a terrific guitar player he knew from Boston bar gigs.
In addition to an ace band, Chesney brings country hit-makers as openers, or hit-makers in the making: Jake Owen, Chase Rice and Cole Swindell. 7 p.m. $79, $45, $32. 800-745-3000, www.timesunioncenter-albany.com
Another good thing about country music: It’s a big tent, stretching from the near-mainstream arena rock of Florida Georgia Line or Rascal Flatts to the near-folk fare of singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter. She also sings here tonight, at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall (30 Second St.).
While earlier-generation country acts (Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings) played union halls here in the 1960s and alt-country artists (Buddy Miller, Shawn Colvin) drove up from New York City to play Latham ’kicker bars, Carpenter made her area debut at The Egg, suggesting ambitious aims at a listening rather than partying crowd.
Her raucous cut-loose rocker “Down at the Twist and Shout” (abetted by the swinging Cajuns of Beausoleil) became her breakthrough, but Carpenter specializes in thoughtful and introspective, smart/emotionally honest songs and arguably helped pave the way for Rosanne Cash to steer her career in a similar direction and open the door for Eliza Gilkyson and others.
Carpenter can play every which way, from solo to big orchestral productions (as on her “Songs from the Movie” album) and has won fistfuls of Nashville and national (Grammy) awards. 8 p.m.
Lunasa opens. Despite personnel shuffles, Lunasa may be the hottest, most spell-binding traditional Irish band touring today: guitarist Ed Boyd, bassist Trevor Hutchinson, piper/whistles player Cillian Vallely, fiddler/whistles player Sean Smith and flute/whistles player Kevin Crawford. $52, $39, $27, $15 (test drive ticket). 273-0038, www.troymusichall.org
GILKYSON AT LENA’S
The very Texas singer-songwriter Eliza Gilkyson returns on Sunday to Caffe Lena (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs), serving up new songs from “The Nocturne Diaries.”
Produced with drummer-son Cisco Ryder and featuring B3 organ from the late, great Ian McLagan, this album collects songs that Gilkyson wrote by night: “Usually the big themes crop up after dark,” she says.
7 p.m. $20 advance, $22 door, $10 children and students. 583-0022, www.caffelena.org
Reach Gazette Columnist Michael Hochanadel at [email protected].