He came, he sang, he conquered. And the city of Wildwood will never be the same.
Over 30,000 people stood shoulder-to-shoulder from the edge of the stage built at the water’s edge clear back to the city’s famous Boardwalk to hear country singer Kenny Chesney sing and to welcome the official start of summer. What they got instead, was a piece of history.
The Wed., June 20 concert, billed as “American Express Unstaged,” featured Kenny Chesney in a 90-minute extravaganza that has now set the stage for what the city of Wildwood is capable of producing.
The event, sponsored by American Express, was pulled together in a three-and-a-half week time frame, said Andrew Kelly, an event production director.
“This was built last Thursday,” said Kelly, pointing to the large stage built on the sand. “We have 350 people working on this.”
According to Kelly, the logistics of building a concert-arena on the beach was a daunting task.
“The city was incredibly accommodating,” said Kelly “They’ve gone through extra effort to ensure this was as smooth as possible because three-and-a-half weeks ago, this was an idea and a thought and it moved incredibly quickly. The infrastructure was manageable to get that many trucks onto the beach. That is something we normally don’t do.”
In addition to building a stage on sand where a low tide or high tide could spell the difference between success or failure, paramount to the crew was the light. “When you’re at a concert,” explained Kelly, “it’s dark.”
Academy Award winning director Jonathan Demme, who was charged with bringing the vision of the concert to the arena and to viewers throughout the world via Vevo and Youtube, said the beach’s ever-shifting light, which he initially thought would be problematic, would become part of the show.
“I thought we were going to pick up a night on his tour,” said Demme. “Maybe even in Philadelphia. Then I found out that Kenny’s vibe was he really wanted to do this concert near the water.”
The choice of Wildwood was Chesney’s, said the director. “I wasn’t that excited about shooting a concert by the ocean. Then we got down here.”
Demme said it was not until rehearsal did he realize the value of the beach’s light. “Looking at our shots on the monitor, it was unbelievable. The light is going to change throughout the hour-and-a-half. I apologized to Kenny.”
Fans lined up for hours along the rails of the Boardwalk waiting for their chance to put their feet on the sand and posture for a space near the stage. Braving temperatures that hovered in the low to mid-90’s with a blaring sun and no sea breeze, a few hardy souls wilted from the hot weather and were treated on the scene.
Minnie Dowe of North Cape May stood in line with her sister-in-law and niece.
“I got lucky,” said Dowe, when asked how she obtained a ticket to the free concert. “My brother gave me his.”
Although the concert was free, a ticket was necessary to gain access to the venue. American Express card members were given first dibs.
“People are selling them,” said Dowe, noting she had purchased one for her niece for $30. “Some were asking $100,” she said.
Dowe’s niece, Sarah Voss of Toledo, Ohio, dovetailed a trip to the shore to visit family to coincide with the concert.
“I came partly to visit family,” said Voss. “But I knew Kenny was here.”
“This is awesome,” said Wildwood native Theresa Young. “It’s been years since anyone has come. I love him!”
Young added she hopes the concert was the first of many. “This is exciting,” she said. “It’s the future of Wildwood. It’s great for the city, it’s great for everyone.”
Gates for the 8:30 p.m. concert were opened at 7 p.m. and thousands of concertgoers made a beeline across the sand to stake their claim near Chesney.
As nightfall inched across the beach, concertgoers were at fever pitch. The crowd roared as a Demme-directed film starring Chesney and all that is Wildwood ran across the Jumbotrons. In the film, Chesney talked about the release of his newest album, “Welcome to the Fishbowl.”
“I’m trying to get better as a human being,” Chesney said in the video as he rode through the streets of the city with his dog, Pancho. “I’m more settled in my skin.” Through the car windows glimpses of local landmarks could be seen.
Making a cameo appearance in the video was John Lynch, Director of Sales and Entertainment for the Wildwoods Convention Center.
“Your fans are here,” Lynch told Chesney.
As the film ended, Chesney came onstage to a thunderous ovation. “It feels good,” the singer told the crowd. “This is 170,000 square feet of fun!”
During Chesney’s fourth song, “Summertime,” the crowd went wild as images of the ocean appeared on the screens behind him. “I’ve never been here,” said Chesney as he finished the song. “And it is so great.”
According to Mayor Ernest Troiano, the concert went “exceptionally well.”
The mayor said the city held up great. “It went ‘scary well,’” said Troiano.
Now that the city has gotten its proverbial feet wet with big-name entertainment on the beach, it is looking to put more concerts on the sand.
- Cape May County Herald - http://tinyurl.com/7rb8myz
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