Kenny Chesney InterviewThe country singer with a no-problems maxim digs into disaster preparednessBy Josie GarthwaiteThis interview first appear in the September/October 2008 edition of Sierra Magazine
Country music dynamo Kenny Chesney grew up in an east Tennessee town of 915 people. Now he crisscrosses the United States singing songs like “Keg in the Closet” and “You Had Me From Hello” in stadiums packed with enough fans to populate Luttrell more than 60 times over. He has sold more than a million concert tickets every year since 2002–something no other musician has matched–and accepted just about every award the country music industry has to offer.
This spring he took on a new kind of challenge by joining the board of PlanIt Now, a nonprofit that works to help people get ready for natural disasters. Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman founded the group in 2004 in response to Hurricane Ivan (see Sierra’s print edition for an interview with the actor, or read it here) and has since partnered with the Sierra Club to encourage disaster preparedness. Sierra spoke with Chesney about life on the road, PlanIt Now, and connecting with nature.
SIERRA: What motivated you to get involved with PlanIt Now?
KENNY CHESNEY: When you live on a bus a lot of the year, the TV becomes your way of being in the world. Seeing what happened in Katrina and after the tsunami made me realize how many people lose everything–everything, even people they love. I said to myself, there has to be a better way, something that can be done before the disaster hits–especially for coastal cities, which are at the highest risk for this sort of thing. Being ready can’t keep it from happening, but maybe it can make it less devastating. I don’t pretend I have any answers. I just want to help move people towards better planning. When Morgan asked [me to join PlanIt Now], he was so much further along on this than I was, so I was thrilled to say yes.
SIERRA: Have your experiences with PlanIt Now affected you personally?
CHESNEY: It’s made me think about how fragile life and the environment are. We only see the impact at its most severe, but it’s a delicate balance out there. Loving the islands and the ocean the way that I do, every time I’m anywhere on my boat or on a beach now, I look at it in a whole new way. I realize how easily it could be gone.
SIERRA: Have you been affected politically?
CHESNEY: Politics is one of the few things I have left in my life to keep personal, so I really make an effort to do that. When people come to our shows, I tell ‘em, “Whatever’s bothering you–your work, your girl, your car–leave it out there, and for a couple hours let’s try to forget about it all and have a good time.” I give people a break so they can catch their breath and remember what they love about being alive. Maybe that’s a whole other kind of politics that gives people the room to really think about where they are, what matters to them with a clear head.
SIERRA: Have you changed any of your habits at home or on the road to reduce your environmental impact?
CHESNEY: On the road, I know we’re always making sure that the catering gets to homeless shelters and soup kitchens. There’s still a lot we don’t eat, and the idea that we’re feeding some of the hungriest people in the cities we play is a good feeling.
SIERRA: Many people are overwhelmed by conflicting advice on how to go green. How do you identify what’s most important for you?
CHESNEY: I think I’m one of those overwhelmed people. There are so many conflicting messages, and you get so unsure about what’s right, what isn’t.
SIERRA: How have rising fuel prices affected your touring and travel choices?
CHESNEY: I think it’s making the fans think twice about what they’re going to do for entertainment. We drive 55 trucks for stadium shows, and I don’t want to pass the fuel costs on to the fans. I’ve always believed in being affordable, so we’re going to be having some very interesting conversations about what next year is going to look like.
SIERRA: Where is your favorite place in the outdoors, and why? What defining experience did you have there?
CHESNEY: Anywhere on the water, really. When I was little, that was our big trip: to the beach. When I graduated from high school, that was our senior trip: to the beach. There was a video I made pretty early in my career down in the Caribbean. There is nowhere I feel more at home than on the water, watching the sun move across the sky. It’s peaceful, but it’s powerful too.