Kenny Chesney used to be just another guy in the audience at country concerts, singing along to all the songs.
Now he's the guy onstage -- and people in the audience are singing his songs.
Fresh off being named the Academy of Country Music's Top New Male Vocalist, Mr. Chesney, 30, and his band perform Saturday at the Third Annual Hot Country Night at Lake Olmstead Stadium.
The accolade "new" is something of a misnomer because Mr. Chesney isn't exactly new on the country scene. He scored a pair of Top Five singles in 1995 and had a No. 1 hit with When I Close My Eyes in 1996. He revisited the No. 1 position in 1997 with She's Got it All, which ruled Billboard's country music chart for three weeks.
Still, he's seen as a fresh face in an ever-crowded field.
"There's still a lot of people out there that consider me new," said the singer-songwriter in a recent telephone interview from his residence outside of Nashville. "Hey -- I'll take it anyway I can get it."
Mr. Chesney places himself on the country side of the great country-versus-pop debate, aligning himself with traditionalists like George Jones and Conway Twitty.
But it's not a political alignment, he insists. He started singing and playing guitar and what came out was country. "It's the way I grew up," said the east Tennessean.
Expect to hear all the hits, some new material and some covers during Mr. Chesney's set.
BlackHawk, a group of country rockers who have had three million-selling albums, will also be featured at the Hot Country Night concert, a benefit for the American Red Cross programs in Augusta and emergency services.
Advance tickets are available for $10 at Smile Gas outlets; Home Folks locations; Hardy Lumber Co., 900 Baker Ave.; and the Augusta Red Cross office, 811 12th St. The show starts at 7:30, and gates open at 6:30.
What: Third Annual Hot Country Night
When: 7:30 Saturday
Where: Lake Olmstead Stadium, 80 Milledge Road
How much: $10 in advance, $15 at the gate, $5 for children 12 and under accompanied by an adult
To hear Kenny Chesney, call Infoline at 442-4444 and press 8101. You'll hear part of the song That's Why I'm Here, from the album I Will Stand.