Chesney showcases the stars who shine behind his tunes

By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / August 26, 2011

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“When you hear songs on the radio and wonder where they come from, this,’’ said Kenny Chesney, sweeping an arm toward his left and right, “is where they come from.’’

The country superstar was gesturing toward five fellow songwriters on the stage at Royale - Bob DiPiero, Matraca Berg, Craig Wiseman, Wendell Mobley, and Brett James - who are responsible for some of the biggest hits in country music of the last two decades, including some of Chesney’s best-known songs.

Ahead of his two mammoth shows at Gillette Stadium tonight and tomorrow, Chesney took part in a considerably more intimate event last night. Armed with acoustic guitars and their voices, the sextet spent 2 1/2 captivating hours singing, telling tales on each other, and breaking down what’s involved in creating the soundtrack to listeners’ lives.

It was a treat to watch Chesney, who graduated to stadium-level success years ago, shrink his larger-than-life persona down for the small stage, excitedly talking about the bones of his songs like “Old Blue Chair’’ and joining his partners in rhyme to play, sing backup and laugh along with their stories.

Each writer got several turns at the microphone and showed off his or her singular style and singing voice. James was especially impressive on a soaring version of “The Truth.’’ Berg nailed the wistfulness of homesickness with her delicate “Oh Cumberland’’ and drew cheers for the sultry “Strawberry Wine.’’ Berg and Chesney also did a lovely take on his current hit, co-written by Berg, “You and Tequila.’’ Wiseman was funny and effusive and drew the sold-out crowd of just over 500 into his take of “Young.’’ DiPiero, the jovial host, got the feet stomping with “Gone.’’ And Mobley brought the house down with the powerhouse “I Melt.’’

While songwriters may not get much glory, on this night they reminded fans of just how indispensable they are.

Sarah Rodman can be reached at


with Kenny Chesney, Bob Dipiero, Matraca Berg, Craig Wiseman, Wendell Mobley, and Brett James At: Royale, last night