It was late Saturday night, early Sunday morning, roughly midnight Central time, and a press release was sent out across the wires from the Kenny Chesney camp. It seemed like a very strange time to send out a press release, but Kenny Chesney’s peeps had a story they wanted to get out to the public, or more specifically, a story they wanted to be out ahead of.
At Kenny’s Saturday night (6/25) concert at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Stadium, he gave a shout out to a 25-year-old local police officer named Christopher Dorman in front of the 48,322 fans in attendance. The officer had been shot seven times the night before in the line of duty for the Folcroft Police Department near Philadelphia, and had required two surgeries. Well wishes poured in for the officer who was being hailed for his bravery, and while in the hospital, Officer Dorman composed a short video on Facebook. “I’d like to thank all of the police, paramedics, and doctors. And hey Kenny, don’t forget me,” the video said.
Chesney caught wind of the video, and gave a shout out to Officer Dorman from the stage right before one of his songs. Unfortunately though, Chesney mistakenly told the Philadelphia crowd that Christopher Dorman had passed away.
Kenny Chesney was trying to pay honor but was given wrong info, said Folcroft Officer Chris Dorman had died. He’s ok pic.twitter.com/SwYlsyNU91
— Cindy Webster (@Cindy610) June 26, 2016
Figuring out the gaffe, the Kenny Chesney publicity machine dispensed a press release late Saturday night that omitted Chesney’s death pronouncement, but included the rest of Kenny’s words for Christopher Dorman, as well as further quotes from Chesney. “I was so caught up in the moment, I think the emotions got the best of me – and I wasn’t as clear as I could’ve been,” the press release said, along with this further explanation …
The crowd, which had begun cheering as they realized what Chesney was talking about, roared when he invoked the policeman’s name. For them, the story was personal – and the fact that Chesney knew – and lifted this moment to honor the police officer prompted an insane response. If the internet blew up at what seemed to be his comment suggesting the officer had passed, he finished the song he was singing, the plaintive “Anything But Mine,” about yearning for a summer love past, and offered, “Christopher Dorman, wherever you are, this is for you…”
But Kenny Chesney did not “suggest” that Officer Dorman had passed away, and that’s not “what seemed” to be what Chesney said, or that Chesney wasn’t “as clear as [he] could’ve been” with his words. Clearly from the video, Kenny Chesney said that Officer Dorman had died.
Everybody makes mistakes, and unfortunately for Kenny, when you’re standing in front of 48,322 people and the local press is in attendance in full force, those mistakes get dramatically amplified. Chesney brought up Officer Dorman because he heard about the story and wanted to give him some attention and send him some love, which is noble and worthy of praise. And in the frenetic atmosphere of putting on a concert, it’s understandable that details could get mixed up for Chesney.
But what took the gaffe from an innocent mistake to a simmering PR nightmare for the Chesney camp is their attempt to act like people misheard or misinterpreted Kenny Chesney’s words. Even the verbiage from the press release saying “if the internet blew up” seemed calculated and premeditated. At the time the press release was disseminated, only one or two people had mentioned the gaffe on Twitter and it was far from a viral phenomenon. Even those people pointing out the mistake were still giving Chesney credit for acknowledging Officer Dorman in the first place. Meanwhile the press release tried to gloss over Kenny’s mistake, yet still exploit the shout out to Officer Dorman as a promotional opportunity.
To the credit of Kenny Chesney, on Sunday he personally called Christopher Dorman to apologize for the mistake and wished him the best, and offered to take Officer Dorman out for a football game and beers in the future. And of course, the Associated Press picked up that story as well, and a new round of publicity was launched around the incident.
It has to be assumed that Kenny Chesney’s heart was in the right place the whole time. It’s the way modern music publicity attempts to exploit these bleeding heart stories for personal gain that makes all the shout outs and charity appearances seem to be more about the marketing than truly trying to make a difference. Right now in popular American music, the music itself many times seems secondary to the celebrity worship that surrounds stars. Bad music is regularly justified by superfans because of the good deeds the artist participates in, or the social stances they take. Though Chesney’s mistake might have been innocent and his intentions pure, the marketing behind it felt anything but.
A similar incident and backlash occurred in April 2014 when Florida Georgia Line made mention of a mass killing in Calgary at one of their concerts. Five people had been stabbed to death two days prior to the Florida Georgia Line concert, and when mentioning it, Tyler Hubbard stumbled over his words, and caused local outrage in Alberta. ““We know that this city is in mourning, we heard about a shooting… or a murder… that happened in the city a couple weeks ago… or a couple days ago here in Calgary,” Hubbard said, causing one local reporter named Mike Bell to post a rant about the flippant attitude the duo took towards the incident.
Stadium-level performers are regularly asked to make shout outs from the stage by producers, managers, and promoters about incidents they’re barely aware of, if at all, in an attempt to ingratiate performers to the concertgoers and show a human side. But if their heart isn’t in it or the facts aren’t together, these moments often feel like bait, or plastic, and lends to the theory that all fans are getting is a facade, and the primary focus for making such homages is marketing.