CHAMPAIGN — Tailgates at Kenny Chesney shows are legendary, but they won't be allowed in State Farm Center lots Friday night when the country superstar returns to Champaign after more than a decade.
Instead, the arena and Chesney's promoters are hosting a "Party on the Patio" on an upper-level outdoor concourse for a limited number from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Friday before the 7 p.m. "Songs for the Saints" show.
It's not just because it's a weekday. Director Kevin Ullestad said State Farm Center never allows tailgating in its parking lots before shows, even on weekends. (Football games are not State Farm Center events.) The lots won't open until 4 p.m. Friday.
"Tailgating is not permitted on site," Ullestad said. "This is nothing new."
Chesney concerts are known for their tailgating, with the city of Pittsburgh among those placing restrictions on his summer 2018 show, including cameras and mounted police, after previous rowdy crowds had left a major mess behind. The latest one was tamer, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Chesney's shows have a tropical flair, and a quick tour of Pinterest shows the tailgating creativity of his fans, whom he christened the "No Shoes Nation" after one of his hit songs: inflatable mini pools used as ice chests, homemade tiki bars, a palm-tree-themed "Plinko" game and even truckloads of sand hauled in for the occasion.
State Farm Center has fielded "quite a few" calls from fans asking where they can tailgate, said Brad Swanson, assistant director for marketing and sales.
The arena is directing fans to the patio party, set up at all of Chesney's events, he said.
"We're giving people an alternative to traditional tailgating since we do know this is very much a tailgating crowd," he said.
The party will be on an upper-level concourse area at the southwest corner of State Farm Center, near the main entrance.
Chesney's company, Blue Chair Bay Rum, is sponsoring the event, along with WIXY radio. It will feature beach chairs, picnic tables, photo backgrounds, inflatables and prizes, and rum drinks will be sold.
Admission to the party will be first-come, first-served. Swanson estimated there will be room for about 500 fans.
"We'll just kind of monitor it, and when it's too full, we'll cut it off," he said.
Police and security staff will be monitoring the parking lots, as always, Swanson said.
The show, which is set up for more than 10,000 fans, isn't sold out, but only single tickets remain, and it could end up being a sellout, Swanson said.
He said fans could check on last-minute tickets on Friday afternoon, as some seats are opened up after the staff sees the exact stage configuration.
Clarification: The State Farm Center says a concert ticket is not required for the patio party.