When country star Kenny Chesney returns to Seattle on Saturday, he’ll plant his pirate flag at the city’s biggest concert venue, CenturyLink Field.
Riding high on the strength of his new album, “Life on a Rock,” and hit single, “Pirate Flag,” Chesney and his band could set another record for country music in Seattle.
The first time the singer-guitarist from East Tennessee played the football stadium — in June 2006, when it was Qwest Field — the show sold 44,582 tickets and took in $2,893,955, making it the highest-grossing single concert in Seattle’s history at the time, according to concert promoter Louis Messina.
It was also among the highest-attended single concerts in Seattle (since 1980), trailing only two Rolling Stones and one Paul McCartney show, according to Pollstar.
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Chesney — famous for such hillbilly rockers as “Back Where I Come From,” “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” and “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems” — had played other stadiums in the early 2000s, but the 2006 Seattle show was transformative.
“That’s one of the first nights when I felt solid in my skin in a stadium environment,” Chesney said by phone.
“Even though we were playing a football stadium, it felt like we were playing a club. I looked around at my band, and they looked at me, and it was like, ‘Wow!’ It was just magic for me and the guys. It was an eye-opening experience for all of us.”
Chesney’s No Shoes Nation tour brings him back to the Seahawks stadium for the fourth time. The 5 p.m. show includes sets by country acts Eric Church, Eli Young Band and Kacey Musgraves.
Calling from Tennessee, Chesney was relaxed, cheerful and talkative. He spoke in a slight drawl reflecting his upbringing near Knoxville and the Great Smoky Mountains.
Aside from the high-spirited, Caribbean-themed anthem “Pirate Flag,” Chesney’s new album is more reflective and autobiographical than any since his 2005 release, “Be As You Are (Songs from an Old Blue Chair).” And it features collaborations with The Wailers (of Bob Marley fame) and his old pal Willie Nelson.
Chesney felt the need to take a break from “feeding the monster,” referring to the Kenny Chesney juggernaut and its constant demands.
“I felt like my career needed it. I felt like my soul needed it,” he said. “And I felt like our audience needed to hear some stories they hadn’t heard before.”
The album is a very personal collection of songs about life in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which Chesney fell in love with decades ago. “Marley” pays tribute to one of his musical heroes, while “Happy on the Hey Now (A Song for Kristi)” is the story of a beloved, high-spirited friend who died at 36.
“Kristi was the foundation of a wonderful circle of friends I met there,” he said. “She had enough island spirit for all of us. She lived in the moment. And it’s something I crave in my life.”
Chesney describes “Coconut Tree” (with Nelson) as a song about “trying to exhale.”
“It’s a very simple song. It goes back to me craving that simplicity. I’ve lived that song a hundred times,” he said, adding, “I look up to Willie in many ways. It’s just the way he walks through the world. He colors outside the lines of his life every day. I love that about him.”
“Spread the Love,” which features The Wailers, landed on the album by a circuitous route. Chesney had recorded the song with the band years ago in Jamaica for a Wailers album that never materialized. He decided to resurrect the track.
“It’s probably been six years since we recorded it,” he said. “It was just laying around. It’s unlike any song I’ve ever done.”
Chesney is now selling “Spread the Love” T-shirts through his website to help victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. Proceeds will go to the Boston Medical Center to help pay for prosthetic limbs
One of the songs Chesney did not write for the new album is “Pirate Flag,” which was penned by Ross Copperman and David Lee Murphy:
Well, I come from a little bitty, homegrown small town
Smoky Mountains, nice place to hang around
Moonshine, that’s where they make it
Put it in a jug, makes you wanna get naked
“It feels like it was written for me. It’s my story,” he added. “It’s about leaving East Tennessee and chasing a dream to see where it would take me.”
Gene Stout: firstname.lastname@example.org