PITTSBURGH (AP)-One night after making his 2016 North Shore debut at the baseball field with Billy Joel, Kenny Chesney rocked the football field down the river Saturday night for the ninth time, on the Spread the Love Tour.
The party started at 1 p.m. when the parking lots opened and quickly filled with folding tables to spread the snacks and hold the beer pong games. It all looked a lot better going in than it did coming out, but more about that later.
The tailgating raged right through the sparsely attended set by Old Dominion, but all people missed was some tame country pop with a heavy supply of borrowed riffs and melodies. OD covered “Pink Houses,” prompting a chant of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” and offered the hit “Break Up With Him,” introduced as “This is the whole reason you know who we are — if you know who we are.” The people inside did anyway.
The tailgate also remained steady, judging by the crowd inside, through Sam Hunt, playing his first stadium show here. Having been a college quarterback (Middle Tennessee State and UAB) who had a tryout with the Kansas City Chiefs, Hunt knows his way around a stadium field. He came out wearing blue jeans and a gleaming white T-shirt and sneakers and bounced around while doing set of songs from his debut album, “Montevallo.”
He started pretty country with “Leave the Night On,” but the singer-songwriter, who has written songs for Chesney and Keith Urban, quickly crossed the country border, incorporating R&B and a hint of hip-hop on “Saturday Night” and “Single for the Summer.” He took it to the stands, sending fans rushing toward him, on the love song “Take Your Time” and the uptempo “House Party,” and then brought it to a guitar-heavy finale with “Break Up in a Small Town.”
Anyone who stayed outside for Miranda Lambert would have been crazy. Fortunately, everyone had to be out of the stadium lots by the time she went on. As she did opening for Jason Aldean last year at PNC Park, the sassy singer from Texas, all in black with platinum hair, did a show-stealing set.
Lambert ran the gamut from traditional country on “All Kinds of Kinds” to hard rock, banging a cowbell with her hair hanging in her face on her cover of Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen.” That was after she did Foghat’s “Slow Ride” and turned John Prine’s folky “That’s the Way That the World Goes ‘Round” into its own wild, rockin’ ride. She also did a shout to the revived Dixie Chicks with “Cowboy Take Me Away.”
On the softer side were the ballads “Over” and “Heart Like Mine,” featuring a surprise visit from Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley, her cohorts in Pistol Annies. The petite singer with the big voice brought the set to a boil with “Little Red Wagon,” “White Liar” and “Gunpowder & Lead.”
Chesney, wearing a Steelers helmet, greeted the estimated crowd of 40,000 (down from recent years) in an intro video and then hit the stage in a cowboy hat, tank-top and jeans, applying his golden baritone to “Beer in Mexico.” It was the first of many sing-along choruses, and it was also the first of many slick solos from his in-house guitar hero Kenny Greenberg.
“Is anybody alive in Pittsburgh tonight?” he shouted to a loud roar.
Chesney ran the ramps like an excited kid, spreading the love on the usual feel-good summery hits “Til It’s Gone,” “Summertime,” “Pirate Flag,” the nostalgia-soaked “I Go Back” and the Buffett-y “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems.” Lighters, cellphones and blue lights lit up the stadium for “Anything But Mine,” a power ballad so endearing to the crowd they even obliged by singing the chorus “And in the morning I’m leaving/making my way back to Cleveland.”
It helped that he expressed his love for this town and its sports and its boats and its fans every couple tunes.
The set was close to last year’s, complete with “How Forever Feels” and the high-energy pairing of “Living in Fast Forward” and “Young.” He freshened the show with the new single “Noise” (which the fans are clearly on board with), Old Dominion’s help on “Save It for a Rainy Day” and Lambert’s gentle harmony on “You And Tequila.”
The end of the set brought the honky tonk with “Out Last Night,” his signature hit “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy,” climaxing like it was a song by The Who, and an explosive version of “Don’t Happen Twice.”
That explosiveness continued in the parking lots where pickup trucks crushed beer bottles that sent glass flying everywhere. No Shoes Nation needed combat boots to get through that. The fans who had to vacate the lots by 7 p.m. to go inside obviously didn’t have anyone standing over them to make them clean up. The trash was bad. Maybe not 2013 bad, but it was ugly Saturday night and it’s going to look even worse in the light of day.