By Colleen Clexton / Special to   Published Jul 04, 2009 at 1:52 AM

Kenny Chesney's fans waited two long years for his return to Summerfest. On Friday night, as the Marcus Amphitheater headliner, the veteran performer didn't disappoint.

Full of energy from the get-go, Chesney clearly gave definition to his "Entertainer of the Year" status on the Milwaukee stop on his "Sun City Carnival Tour." Chesney's following in recent years has brought on a Jimmy Buffet-like party persona, so much so that many of his shows are billed in part with a pre-concert tailgate.

There was no tailgating Friday in Milwaukee, a city in which the tradition has become an art form, but the party was no less enthusiastic.

Chesney, himself, may have said it best when he told the crowd -- with a beer in hand: "This is where it's officially not a concert, but a party!"

Plugging through his hits "Summertime," "Beer in Mexico," "Keg in the Closet" and his latest single, "Out Last Night," left Chesney drenched in sweat -- much to the pleasure audience, which skewed heavily female.

Bouncing about a dozen beach balls before the show, the crowd did not even notice when the annual July 4th fireworks display got underway.

If Chesney's priorities really are friends, family, sports, women and church (in that order), none were in short supply during his set. Fans may or may not have noticed the cardboard cutout of what seemed to be an additional musician: turns out his steel guitar player was injured in a motorcycle accident three days ago and was unable to join the tour.

Bringing on many of his own crew and band to sing with him and on their own solo, the show partied on for nearly three hours.

Showcasing his abilities as a true vocalist, Chesney gave the party a break (or a chance for a slow dance) with a pair of ballads that included "Anything but Mine" and "Down the Road." Pumping the audience back up with "Young" and "Living in Fast Forward", Chesney left the stage to many deserving chants of "KENNY."

Having finished most of his spirited collection of hits, his shoeless return to the stage proved to be more second act than encore. Sampling from all across the musical board, he covered Tom Petty's "Last Dance with Mary Jane," the Violent Femmes' "Blister in the Sun" and U2's "With or Without You."

Chesney also made sure to include a local tribute. Images of local landmarks like Miller Park, the Bradley Center, Marquette, UWM and the new Harley-Davidson museum played on the screen as the 11-piece band backed Chesney on "Back Where I Come From." The biggest cheers came, of course, on screen shots of the Milwaukee Brewers. (Although I did notice the Admirals logo wasn't included in that montage!)  

Both opening acts, Lady Antebellum and Miranda Lambert, proved to be talented performers, comfortable in engaging the audience. Either act could have probably played a headliner show on one of the ground stages this year.

Lady Antebellum's trio of Charles Kelly, Dave Haywood and Hillary Scott started what would be one of many sing-a-longs with "Nothing but a good time" and "I run to you."

Lambert, engaging the crowd with her collection of pink guitars and rock girl persona, got the crowd riled up with a cover of Joan Jett's "I Love Rock and Roll" and her country anthem of "Gunpowder and Lead."