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Review: Kenny Chesney, Eric Church perform perfect sets in Columbus, shine with encore selections

Country concerts are about camaraderie just as much as they are about actual country music.

When the Eli Young Band ended its set after Kacey Musgraves’ opening performance at Crew Stadium Saturday night, the sky opened up for a downpour. Eric Church was set to take the stage but was delayed by nearly an hour and a half because of the rain.

But country fans aren’t afraid to get a little wet, and most fans corralled into the covered area inside the stadium off the field. Most people don’t like to wait out a thunderstorm, but everyone made the most of it by striking up conversation with each other.

A beach ball floated over the waiting fans, laughs were shared and friends were made. One woman asked her husband how long we were supposed to wait, to which he replied, “Until it stops raining. Have you ever been to a NASCAR race?”

That statement represented the crowd pretty well.

When Church took the stage there was a slight drizzle over the crowd, but no one seemed to notice. He opened with “Creepin’” and then launched into “How ‘Bout You,” both perfect show openers.

Despite protests from security, fans in the pit were dancing on wet chairs and screaming along to the music — everyone around me had big smiles on their faces and most had boots on their feet.

The set was perfect. The crowd went crazy for “Drink In My Hand,” “Guys Like Me” and the slower “Like Jesus Does.” Toward the end of the set, he played one of his first hits, “Homeboy,” which admittedly is not one of my favorites, but nearly everyone still sang every line.

Just before closing the show, members in the crowd removed a boot from their feet and hoisted it over their heads as Church crooned “These Boots.” He walked down the runway, collecting boots from fans who offered them up while singing soulfully.

There was no better song to close the show with than “Springsteen,” the anthem of last summer that had become an instant classic.

Church sat down at the piano, sang out a few lines and then belted into “When you think about me / Do you think about 17?” with what sounded like the entire crowd singing along. He worked Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” into the song and talked about how he looked up to Springsteen. It was perfect.

Chesney took the stage after a brief intermission, kicking things off with “Feel Like A Rockstar.”

His set consisted of hit after hit — “Beer in Mexico,” “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems,” “Somewhere With You” and “I Go Back” were all packed into the first half.

He sang “You and Tequila,” which was originally a duo with Grace Potter, but for the show, the crowd acted as his partner.

The first half of the show seemed impossible to top, but he still had “Young,” “Living in Fast Forward,” “Come Over,” “Never Wanted Nothing More” and “Don’t Happen Twice” left in his repertoire.

Nearing the end of the show, Chesney addressed the crowd about something he said was important to Columbus: football. The crowd cheered, knowing what was coming next.

Courtesy of David Carstens and Courtni Meadows

Courtesy of David Carstens and Courtni Meadows

“The Boys of Fall.” The classic song for every small town football program, a dedication to the boys the whole town cheers for on Friday nights. I’m two years out of high school, but the song takes me back to watching my best friends, our hometown glory, from the metal bleachers under the bright lights of my high school’s stadium. One of those friends was with me, and the song hit home, tugging at my heart.

In a truly beautiful moment, Chesney pulled a little boy, about 5 years old, onstage and handed him an autographed Buckeye football helmet. When I passed him on my way out of the stadium, he was riding on his dad’s shoulders, proudly wearing the helmet, and bystanders cheered him on.

Directly contrasting “The Boys of Fall,” Chesney closed his set with a country music guilty pleasure, “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.” That song is probably what sent most fans over the edge between having and losing their voices — everyone was screaming along.

Despite the waiting period spent anxiously hoping the rain would stop, Church and Chesney made the concert incredible. The duo provided a concert almost too good to be true, managing to fit just about every song the crowd would want to hear into a roughly three hour long show.

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