Already secure as country music's king of the road, Kenny Chesney is really flexing his muscle now.
Chesney is poised to reach a milestone _ and perhaps clear a path _ as he readies for an Aug. 13 visit to New Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey. Chesney has already sold more than 44,000 tickets, making it the hottest single paid country show in the New York City-New Jersey area since Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard and Linda Ronstadt drew more than 51,000 in 1983.
"I don't know if taking a chance is the right word, but to be honest with you it was a little bit of a risk to play Meadowlands Stadium," Chesney said. "But my whole touring life has been a risk. ... One day I said, `You know, I want to be able to say I played the New York-New Jersey area and I did it in a football stadium.' We almost did it two years ago, and so now I felt like the time was right. I'm glad I was right."
Playing against the odds is paying off. The greater New York metropolitan area has traditionally been a no-fly zone for country artists. But Chesney is matching artists like Jon Bon Jovi stride for stride in his home state and with other artists like Taylor Swift _ who recently played in front of 52,000 fans in four sold-out arena shows in Newark, N.J. _ is helping show there's room for a little twang in the shadow of the Big Apple.
Meadowlands CEO Mark Lamping expects Chesney's show with Zac Brown Band, Billy Currington and Uncle Kracker to sell out at around 50,000 and notes the show could clear the way for more major country acts to play a market they once wrote off.
"We've always believed in the show," Lamping said. "We were perhaps a little anxious in the beginning because there hasn't been a big (country) show here in a long time. But we were confident this would be a success and it's been a success beyond what our original expectations were. It certainly gives us a lot of confidence to bring other shows to this market."
Chesney's rise in the New York area coincides with a resurgence in the music touring business. After a rough 2010 thanks to the weakened economy, musicians are seeing an increase in gross revenue _ if not ticket sales.
Trade magazine Pollstar's editor in chief, Gary Bongiovanni, says while ticket sales are still lagging behind, overall gross revenue is up both worldwide and in North America. The cumulative gross of $1.65 billion by the world's top 50 tours is up $166 million or 11.2 percent. Ticket sales are down by about 2 percent, Bongiovanni says, but artists have made up for that drop with increased prices.
While U2 continues to dominate with gross revenues of $85.8 billion, Chesney's Goin' Coastal Tour is helping drive that resurgence as well with more than 1.1 million tickets sold so far. Chesney is the top country act and fourth overall on Pollstar's list of gross revenue for the top 100 North American tours at $46.7 million. He has sold out 27 shows this year, including five stadium shows (with the sixth at 96 percent capacity).
"The only other (country) artist who could draw in the same realm is Garth Brooks," Bongiovanni said. " ... And then Taylor Swift has been so red hot that in some markets with proper packaging she's been able to fill stadiums as well, but not with the frequency and consistency that Kenny has in the past."