BRISTOL - Kenny Chesney didn’t need any help closing the show.
Probably not anywhere. But certainly not in east Tennessee, where he went to college and started his singing career. But the country superstar knows his audience. When he invited a special guest to the stage Friday night, the volume level inside Bristol Motor Speedway ratcheted past insane.
It doesn’t get much better in East Tennessee — on the night before a Tennessee football game, but really anytime — than a combination of Chesney and Peyton Manning.
The concert, on the eve of the “Battle at Bristol” between Tennessee and Virginia Tech, featured country acts Old Dominion and The Band Perry. By the time Chesney took the stage, the grandstand along the racetrack’s backstretch was virtually filled. Many fans wore either Tennessee orange or Virginia Tech maroon.
Chesney, a lifelong Vols fan, stopped at one point during the high-energy show to tell the crowd about his days attending East Tennessee State University in nearby Johnson City, playing the bars in the area and working for a year at El Chico restaurant to raise enough money to cut an album in Bristol, Va., just across the state line. And as the final bars played from his No. 1 hit “The Boys of Fall,” an ode to football, Chesney motioned Manning from the wings, where he’d been sitting and watching the show.
Manning, who retired from the NFL after winning the Super Bowl last winter, is scheduled to participate in the coin toss before the game (Bruce Smith will represent Virginia Tech).
As the former Tennessee and NFL great appeared onstage, Chesney grabbed an acoustic guitar. He and Manning signed it. And then they walked together to the front of the stage.
As the crowd roared, Manning picked out a young fan wearing an orange Tennessee football jersey (No. 98, for 1998, when the Vols won the national championship). They pulled the boy onstage and presented him the guitar.
The crowd went bonkers.
“We are here this weekend to celebrate music,” Chesney said earlier in the show. “And we are here to celebrate football.”
And there’s no better way to celebrate it in East Tennessee than with Manning.