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Tour Profile: Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban


Kenny Chesney

Photo: Strother Bullins

Kenny Chesney’s current tour isn’t your father’s country music show — it isn’t even your older brother’s. It’s a whole lot of Abercrombie & Fitch — outfitted Gen-Y fans donning cowboy hats — not as a uniform, but as kitschy-cool accessories in place of designer trucker caps. There’s also a whole lot of rocking going on, as opposed to twanging. Add the faint aroma of spiced rum to the air (Cruzan Rum Company sponsors the Caribbean-themed tour) and you have one of the party concerts for this summer.

Keith Urban

Photo: Strother Bullins

Chesney, along with opener Keith Urban and special guest Dierks Bentley, brought his party to a sold-out crowd at North Carolina’s Greensboro Coliseum on April 29. As previous dates on this tour have proven, the party vibe rubs off on the musicians and crew, who are having just as much fun as the audience is.

The tour is using a completely Crown-powered EAW 750/755 P.A. system bolstered by EAW SB1000 subwoofers. Out front, it’s Midas desks for both Chesney and Urban: a Midas XL3 and Midas Heritage 3000, respectively. “The XL3 is such a warm console,” says Chesney’s front-of-house engineer Brian Vasquez. “It’s so round-sounding.”

Kenny Chesney’s FOH engineer Brian Vasquez

Photo: Strother Bullins

Calling Chesney’s voice “what the crowd is here for,” Vasquez mixes with lead vocal intelligibility at the top of his priority list. “I try to fit everyone else around him. Of course, I still want to make everything round and full, but not have too much band so that he’s buried.” Chesney uses the Audio-Technica Artist Elite 3300 wireless microphone system straight into an XL3 mic preamp. “I don’t do much to his vocal and really don’t have to,” says Vasquez. “The only thing I do is EQ the vocal for the room.”

According to Vasquez — who started in the monitor position with Chesney — current monitor engineer Phil Robinson keeps the stage volume comparatively low, while providing a performance-enhancing live feel. Robinson uses a Soundcraft Series 5 desk, Westone ear molds and Sennheiser transmitters and packs, striving to keep the mixes very simple — just as Chesney and his multi-instrument — wielding band likes it. “The band likes everything lean and mean,” says Vasquez. “Phil doesn’t do a lot of processing — just straight in and straight out. Onstage, we have some guitar amps, but that’s all part of a high-energy rock ‘n’ roll show. We also have two single 18-inch sub cabinets under the deck firing in the direction of the bass player and drummer — they want air movement along with the clarity they get from the in-ears. Phil is really good about rocking that stuff, but not so much that it kills me out front.”

Keith Urban’s FOH engineer Steve Law

Photo: Strother Bullins

Urban’s hour-long performance is expertly mixed each night by his FOH engineer, Steve Law, who calls the set a “grooving thing. I try to get the groove factor going, while starting with the kick/snare/hat and bass guitar. I make that really prominent and set the instrumentation around it so the kids can get into it and feel the groove.”

Once that groove is present, Law addresses Urban’s vocals, using Shure Beta 87C mics for all vocal mic placements. “I love ’em,” he states simply. “I’ve been using them for several years now and have found that they offer a nice response in a variety of different situations.” Integral to Urban’s vocal chain is the API 7600 channel strip, which Law describes as “very warm, very rich.”

Like Chesney, Urban prefers a mix of onstage amps and in-ear monitors. Urban’s monitor engineer Ken Beachley, also mixing on a Midas Heritage, allows the stage volumes to get a bit boisterous while providing a blend of detailed ear mixes for the players. “You don’t get the live gig feel with only in-ears,” Law comments. “For the crowd up front, running only in-ears gives them a P.A. off in the distance and maybe some sidefill. If you were sitting in a club watching Keith, you’d hear the band coming offstage. We’re trying to create that sound in the arena.”

While Vasquez and Law agree that stress levels are low for this tour, consistent room wrangling is a daily assignment. Compared to touring amphitheaters, Law says that arenas are a mixed bag, usually presenting frequency issues: “You’ll have a resonance around 80 Hz in the arenas, and every time the bass guitar goes to a low E, it’s just going to ring forever. It’s very important to keep that under control, especially for what we’re doing.”

“When I started with Kenny, we were doing theaters,” Vasquez notes. “It’s been a rocket ship ride from there: theaters, sheds, arenas, last year’s show at Neyland Stadium [Knoxville, Tenn.]. As long as we have a good crowd, I’m happy mixing anywhere.”