Vacation vibe settles in as Kenny Chesney stirs nostalgia at Grand Forks' Alerus Center

Tennessee native brings his "I Go Back" tour to Grand Forks, supported by opening act Kelsea Ballerini.

Kenny Chesney at Grand Forks Alerus Center, May 9, 2023.jpg
Country music star Kenny Chesney performs at the Grand Forks Alerus Center on Tuesday, May 9, 2023.

GRAND FORKS – Seeking evidence of the dedication of Kenny Chesney’s fans?

Check the beer line.

Once the country music icon began his set Tuesday at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, the lines quickly dissipated. The first few strains of “Til It’s Gone” reverberating through the arena prompted an exodus from the refreshment stations, leaving those vendors – so busy just moments before – practically by themselves.

Apparently, that’s how it is for the No Shoes Nation, the nickname for Chesney’s large, animated and loyal fan base that so passionately embraces his laid-back persona and beer-on-the-beach imagery.

Chesney – supported by a six-person band and opening act Kelsea Ballerini – played the Alerus Center as part of his “I Go Back” tour, a series of shows that began in March, looped through the South and is in the midst of a Midwest swing. The Alerus Center crowd likely numbered north of 15,000, although the facility rarely releases official numbers on the eve of events.


“I’m so excited about the ‘I Go Back’ tour. His older stuff is my favorite,” said Chasity Peterson, who lives near Ottertail, Minnesota, and has seen Chesney perform a half-dozen times. “People like the idea of vacations, especially here where it’s colder. Anytime you think of somewhere warm, you think of Kenny Chesney songs.”

It didn’t take long for the vacation vibe to settle in at the Alerus Center. Chesney opened with “Til It’s Gone,” followed by “Beer in Mexico,” with its line “let the warm air melt these blues away.”

Chesney, a native of Tennessee, debuted on the national scene in the mid-1990s and shortly thereafter began a run of hit singles and albums. He is a multiple “Entertainer of the Year” winner and saw a string of consecutive albums reach No. 1 on the Billboard Country Album chart. Among those albums was “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problems,” which pushed him into the country stratosphere and cemented that now-so-familiar beach persona.

Tuesday, he wasn’t barefoot, but he did perform sans sleeves – soaking a blue tank top as he worked a stage that jutted into the crowd – and sported, as usual, a straw cowboy hat similar to those that civilians can buy at most any convenience store.

He also performed with Ballerini, another Tennessee native.

“A couple of years ago, she wrote this song and asked me to play on it,” he said before they started “Half of My Hometown.” “I’m very proud I did.”

In a statement sent to the media when the concert was announced, Chesney said the idea behind his 2023 tour is to spark nostalgia among his fans, and perhaps even himself.

"It’s a sound that reminds me how much music really means to people," he said. "It’s not about the numbers, but the joy you see on people’s faces — and the more I thought about it, the more I thought about taking the music to the people who were there when this thing was taking off.”


On Tuesday, the audience was almost as much of a focus as the music itself. Chesney high-fived fans during his two-hour set, and he often brought the house lights up to highlight the crowd's enthusiasm.

Over his final eight or 10 songs – particularly “American Kids” – Chesney really didn’t need to sing much. The crowd could have done it for him, and many times they did.

“We’ve been looking forward to tonight for a long time,” he told the crowd. “Grand Forks, thank you so much.”

Korrie Wenzel has been publisher of the Grand Forks Herald and Prairie Business Magazine since 2014.

Over time, he has been a board member of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp., Junior Achievement, the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation, United Way, Empire Arts Center, Cornerstones Career Learning Center and Crimestoppers.

As publisher, Wenzel oversees news, advertising and business operations at the Herald, as well as the newspaper's opinion content.

In the past, Wenzel was sports editor for 14 years at The Daily Republic of Mitchell, S.D., before becoming editor and, eventually, publisher.

Wenzel can be reached at 701-780-1103.
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