SOBERING TRUTHS Inside country music’s complex — and increasingly lucrative — love affair with alcohol

As the temperature inched toward 92 degrees in the parking lots outside Kenny Chesney’s concert in May, the beer cans were icy, the Jell-O shots were melting, and the T-shirts were direct: “Country Music and Beer, That’s Why I’m Here.” “Pour Me Something Tall and Strong.” “Make America Drunk Again.”

Brightly hued bottles of Blue Chair Bay Rum, the country superstar’s popular beverage brand, lined the tables at tailgates around AT&T Stadium, where fans gathered hours before the first opening act went on at 5 p.m. When the crowd of about 46,000 started streaming into the venue, some friendly patrons near an entrance offered a beer bong funnel to passersby, and cheers erupted whenever anyone took on the challenge.

“Tequila, baby!” one man yelled nearby. Across the street, participants in a mother-daughter tailgate ticked off why summer Chesney concerts are so appealing: “Beer, songs, sunshine.” That night, Chesney, who has found immense success in the past two decades selling the idea of island-style relaxation, would reference alcohol in 18 out of his 23 songs.

Although fans imbibe copiously at concerts of every genre, all of which boast songs about drinking, it’s possible that no slice of American life has embraced alcohol with the enthusiasm of country music. The two have gone hand-in-hand for decades, thanks in part to the so-called “tear in your beer” songs that helped make the format famous.

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