TAMPA, Fla. — This is no ordinary friendship – or concert tour.
When country superstars Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw kick off their highly anticipated 22-city stadium tour Saturday in Tampa, it will be the high point of their careers and friendship.
The two men met at a bar in Nashville more than 20 years ago. Chesney had just moved to the city and didn't know anyone. McGraw had a record contract but had yet to put out a single.
McGraw joked in an interview at Raymond James Stadium on Friday that they would hang out at each other's apartments "depending on who had paid the electric bill that month."
"That's not a lie," Chesney added.
Neither dreamed they would ever headline a tour, much less enter territory attempted by very few music acts of any genre as they co-headline this tour together. Today they are two of country music's top draws and by combining forces on "The Brothers of the Sun" tour they're launching what some are calling country music's biggest tour ever.
"You don't dream that," said Chesney, pointing at the enormous stage inside the stadium. "I just wanted a song on the radio."
Added McGraw: "We wanted to have big careers. We wanted to go out and set the world on fire. But you know, in the back of your mind, you always think, `If I could just get a hit song, I'd be happy.'"
The tour, which also includes Grace Potter & The Nocturnals and Jake Owen, is so much more than a hit song or even your usual arena show. It's comprised of three complete stage systems, 85 tractor-trailers, 240 roadies and two culinary staffs, according to tour manager Ed Wannebo, who spoke to the media Friday as McGraw and Chesney joked and whispered in each other's ears nearby like schoolboys.
The tour – and especially the stage set – "consumed" Chesney. It started with ideas scrawled on "a pen and napkin" and planning and preparation began months ago.
"Building that," Chesney said while pointing to the stage, "There's a lot that goes into it. I have my hands on basically everything on that stage, the way it looks, the way it moves, everything. That's just the way I am. I'm very hands-on. I care what it looks like, because I want to give the fans the best possible experience."
McGraw said he and Chesney initially wanted to do just a couple of large shows, but the plan grew. The first show in Tampa is sure to be a large one; when Chesney played there in 2011, he drew 50,548 fans.
Each performer will have his own set and the pair, who released the dual single "Feel Like a Rock Star" in anticipation of the tour, will join together to top off the night. Potter will likely join Chesney for a rendition of their steamy hit "You and Tequila." And McGraw, fresh off a new deal with Big Machine Records, will unveil news songs he's been working on for his next album.
"You try to entertain the last guy that you see in the very top row back there," McGraw said. "Make him feel special, make him feel like his money was worth it."