Dive into this summer's music scene, as two country titans join forces and reunite on a monster stadium tour

By EW Staff
Updated July 13, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT
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Tim Mcgraw & Kenny Chesney

Ever since Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw first went on tour in 1999, they’ve gauged their success by their best road-trip stories. Now Chesney’s the top ticket seller in country music, while McGraw has racked up Grammys and won acclaim for his acting (see: 2010’s Country Strong). This summer, on the heels of their duet ”Feel Like a Rock Star,” they’ll also team up on the Brothers of the Sun stadium tour, beginning June 2 in Tampa. We talked to the pair about songwriting, shooting hoops, and just where the past 13 years have gone.

You guys have known each other since you started out in the ’90s. Tim, I heard your daughter used to paint Kenny’s toenails.

Tim McGraw Kenny and I lived in the same neighborhood. Right before we went to the [Academy of Country Music Awards] one year, he was over, and Gracie started painting our toenails. I washed mine off, but Kenny forgot about his until he was shoved in the pool at the ACMs.

Kenny Chesney Here I am, with a lot of industry people in Los Angeles, and I look down and I’ve got my toenails painted.

What were your first impressions of each other when you met in Nashville?

Chesney Tim was a lot like me. He was from a small town, he was here to chase the dream, and that may be one of the reasons that we were instant friends.

McGraw When I started listening to the songs Kenny had written, I was blown away by what a great songwriter he was.

Chesney It’s an acquired taste.

Kenny, you started out as a songwriter, not a performer. What changed?

Chesney Well, Tim already had a record deal during this time, and to see one of your friends go out with his own band and own tour bus? You look up to that.

McGraw What he’s trying to say is ”S—, if he could do it, I could do it!” [Laughs]

What are your most vivid memories from your early days of touring together?

McGraw Kenny and I spent most of our time hanging out on the bus, talking about our careers and my family and what we wanted out of life. We learned a lot from each other.

Chesney 2001 was a year of uncertainty for me. I had my album No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems recorded, but it hadn’t come out yet. Tim’s tour opened my eyes to a lot of things, because he was doing it as big as anybody’s done it. Every night when I got off stage, I would take a shower, make a cocktail, and go to the side of the stage and watch his show.

I hear you also played a lot of basketball. Is it true that you’re very competitive with each other on the court?

Chesney Yeah, somebody asked me the other day, ”What are you most jealous of?” I said, ”Tim can dunk a basketball, and I can’t even dunk it when it’s lowered down to eight feet.”

McGraw He can shoot the lights out, though.

Did you go to any crazy after-parties together during your summer tours?

McGraw One of my most memorable nights is when we played Detroit in 2001. We went to Kid Rock’s place after the show, and my dad [baseball player Tug McGraw] was with me, and Kenny’s dad was with him, and Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top, and Mark Collie. We played music all night till the sun came up.

Chesney He recorded it. It’s out there somewhere! That’s what happens when you go to Detroit and Kid Rock comes to your show. Nine times out of 10, you usually end up at his house.

Jake Owen is on tour with you. Didn’t he get detained by the police — but not arrested — and then married within the span of three days?

McGraw That sounds like a country song! Did she have him detained so that she could marry him?

It was Cinco de Mayo. He got drunk and wore a scary mask into a restaurant. Apparently that’s illegal in some states?

McGraw Michael Jackson used to do it all the time!

You guys are the vets and he’s the newcomer. Has he asked you for advice?

McGraw I’ve known Jake several years. He was out on the road with us once before, and he kept thanking me profusely for having him with us. Two years later he’s on the road with me, and he still thanked me every single day. I said, ”Jake, if you thank me one more time, you’re gonna be back in the crowd!”

Since this is a coheadlined tour, are you learning to play each other’s songs?

McGraw For the most part, we know each other’s songs pretty well.

Chesney Oh, yeah, there’s this song of Tim’s that I still love called ”For a Little While.” Out on the road, there were many nights where I called him at two in the morning and woke the household up, and I would let the crowd sing it to him.

Tim, what’s your favorite Chesney song?

McGraw ”There Goes My Life.” I’ve called Kenny or texted him a few times, just saying, ”You still get me when I hear that song.”

Chesney That song is more about Tim’s life than mine. He’s got three daughters. That’s what the song is all about, having a kid early on and thinking your life is over, and then realizing later on that it’s not over until your kids grow up and leave home. Tim understands that emotion.

What new country stars are you both excited about?

McGraw I don’t like any of them. [Laughs] No, Jerrod Niemann, I really like his record. I’m biased because I love country music, but I think there’s really a resurgence right now.

Chesney There’s a difference between having a few songs on the radio and having a career, and the one who stands out the most to me is Eric Church. He’s a real artist. He didn’t come up on some karaoke contest.

Eric Church took some heat for saying that if you come up on American Idol or The Voice, you’re not a real country star. Do you agree?

McGraw I just think everybody has a dream. Go for it.

Chesney Me too. I will say that I like the way he’s doing it right now. It isn’t the only way, but it might be the most honest way, and the way that usually works out the best. On the other hand, you can’t deny the success of Carrie Underwood.

McGraw Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how you do it. The truth is going to stick sooner or later.

What’s next for you after the tour?

McGraw There are a couple of projects floating around out there that I’m trying to get into my schedule. I’m definitely going to do another movie soon.

Chesney I’ve got an album [Welcome to the Fishbowl] coming out. Other than that, I’m going to play the lead role in The Life of Tim McGraw. [Laughs] It’s a very complicated role. —Melissa Maerz

Nicki Minaj Is Poised to Conquer the World

For nine days this spring, Nicki Minaj went silent. Shortly before the release of Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, the pop star spiked her Twitter account, blindsiding 11 million followers. But a good diva never stays down for long. Just over a week later, she returned to tout the new video for her now-platinum single “Starships.”

Intergalactic rockets aren’t a bad metaphor for the 29-year-old rapstress’ career rise. ”It’s been a surreal ride,” says Minaj. ”Reality almost feels like fantasy right now, like one of my videos.” Having gone from standout guest spots on tracks for Mariah Carey and Kanye West to solo-chart ubiquity in less than three years, Minaj is in the thick of her first global headlining tour, with multiple U.S. dates.

Even from the road, she’ll be dominating the airwaves — both TV (she’s a new Pepsi spokeswoman) and radio (she’s currently holding four spots on the Hot 100). ”It’s never easy being a female rapper,” she says. ”We aren’t traditionally taken seriously. But I finally feel like I’ve taken control of my own destiny.” —Leah Greenblatt, with reporting by Christian Blauvelt

Country Strong

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