The superstars of country music have always had an element of contradiction. Their rootsy appeal hinges on their status as symbolic ordinary figures — good ol’ boys and girls who just happened to make it big. (It’s almost as if they were stars despite their stardom.) But when you see the bouncy and infectious concert movie Kenny Chesney: Summer in 3D, that contradiction is so ripe (and fun) that it takes on a stadium-size life of its own. Chesney has an uncanny knack for playing to 60,000 screaming fans as if he were performing in his own living room. Lithe, short (he’s barely 5’6”), and casually athletic, in a cowboy hat and sleeveless T-shirt that bring out his snaky sexiness, Chesney makes an art form out of strolling down the catwalk while singing. He turns each song into a blissed-out journey homeward.
Summer in 3D was shot in six different locations during Chesney’s 2009 tour — none of them, interestingly enough, in the South (the cities are Boston, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Seattle). Chesney sings about good times, bad times, drunken times, and cruising-down-the-highway memories. Whatever the subject, though, the bond between him and his fans is really a shared longing for a less fraught, less burdensome America, a place where forgetting your troubles was easier because those troubles didn’t run so deep. At times, the music gets a bit samey, because it’s all very upbeat, without the twangy heartbreak that marked an earlier generation of country stars. Yet it’s studded with juicy country-pop hooks. Chesney may carry himself like a slimmed-down Garth Brooks, but he and his band, with their soaring sunburst harmonies, sound like the Eagles if they’d finally checked out of the Hotel California. Highlights: the bopping anthem ”Summertime” and the sublimely wistful ”Back Where I Come From,” which celebrates tradition by turning it into 21st-century nostalgia. B+