The long-awaited debut of the 2012 Brothers of the Sun Tour finally kicked off this weekend in Tampa, Florida, and it did not disappoint. Headlined by hits-heavy sets from superstars Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney, the high-energy show gave the crowd a serious good time, from the festive tailgate parties in the parking lot to the closing number–a cover of Jackson Browne‘s “Running on Empty” that featured Chesney, McGraw, and opening acts Jake Owen and Grace Potter.

“Music is the most important thing we have in our lives,” Chesney said at one point during his set. “A song can stamp our lives forever.” And considering the crowd’s reactions to the hours of music that filled Saturday’s powerhouse show, there’s little doubt that more than a few lives were stamped by the experience.

The party started early Saturday. The parking lot of Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium was packed by 1:30pm, with fans grilling, playing games, drinking, and dancing. Even people who were unable to get tickets came simply for the tailgating.

Recently married Florida native Jake Owen opened the show, followed by roots-rock band Grace Potter and the Nocturals (Potter has gained a country following thanks to her vocals alongside Chesney on the ACM-nominated hit “You and Tequila”).

Tim McGraw came out next dressed in tight white jeans and a white T-shirt, with a black belt and black cowboy hat, and launched into a hits-filled set that included “Let It Go,” “Something Like That (BBQ Stain),” “Southern Voice,” “I Like It I Love It,” and “Cowboy In Me.” The fan reaction was particularly strong when McGraw sang “Live Like You Were Dying,” the crowd up on their feet and singing along as loud as they could. Mixing in some less familiar material as well, he ended his set with the brand-new “Truck Yeah.”

Next up was Kenny Chesney, who emerged from underneath a circular stage in the middle of the field (rather than on the main stage) wearing a blue shirt with jeans and cowboy hat. And it was clear he was working hard to put on an energetic show, as by the end of the night, that light blue shirt was completely soaked.

Chesney kicked off with “Beer In Mexico,” then hopped on a harness/swing that allowed him to fly right over the crowd all the way to the main stage.

“Keg In The Closet” ran into some technical difficulties, the sound briefly giving out in the middle of the song, but luckily the trouble didn’t last long.

“What a fitting place to start the Brothers of the Sun tour,” Chesney said before playing “Summertime.” Further songs in his set included “Reality,” “Live Those Songs,” “No Shoes No Shirt No Problems,” and “What I Need To Do,” a song from his 1999 Everywhere We Go album that he said he hadn’t performed in a while.

Throughout the set Chesney ran around the massive stage, popped into the crowd, and at one point was even handed two license plates strung together that said ‘BROS OF THE SUN.’

“I Go Back” was followed by his brand new single “Come Over,” and Grace Potter reappeared for an acoustic rendition of their duet “You and Tequila,” sung from the middle of the T-shaped stage.

Chesney’s set also included a personalized visual spin, as music videos, pictures from vacations, and even fan photos flashed across the backdrop while he sang.

Further songs included “Back Where I Come From” (accompanied by visuals of memorable places in Tampa Bay), “Livin’ In Fast Forward,” “Never Wanted Nothing More,” “Coast Of Somewhere Beautiful” (which he said said he always plays when he’s near the water), “We Went Out Last Night,” “When The Sun Goes Down” “Don’t Happen Twice,” and “The Boys of Fall.” For the latter he further acknowledge where he was by bringing out out Dallas Clark, a player newly signed to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Toward the end came one of the moments everyone was waiting for — Chesney’s recent single with McGraw, “Feel Like A Rockstar.” Joining Chesney for the song, McGraw emerged from underneath the stage in the middle of the field, as Kenny had done. The crowd went crazy for the two guys, who ran all over stage, slapping hands with fans.

The two stars continued to sing together on “Refried Dreams” (a vintage McGraw song), “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” (one of Kenny’s older favorites) and another of Tim’s early hits, “Indian Outlaw.”

The show finally came to an end as Jake Owen and Grace Potter came on stage to join Tim and Kenny for a rousing version of “Running On Empty.”

– Shayla Keller, WQYK/Tampa

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