Students at the Gifft Hill School’s lower campus were surprised with an impromptu performance by 2006 Country Music Association’s entertainer of the year, Kenny Chesney, on Friday afternoon, October 20.
Even school administrators were surprised by the request from 60 Minutes producers — who were with Chesney on island filming a piece for the show’s Sunday, November 12, episode — to allow Chesney to perform.
“It was something else, because there was really no forewarning at all,” said head of Gifft Hill School Ben Biddle. “It was a matter of three or four hours notice. It was sort of a short, sweet surprise.”
Administrators did not have to do much scrambling around to accommodate the producers’ request to perform at the lower school, which consists of grades preschool through four.
“At the lower school, you don’t have the complexity of scheduling that you do in the upper and middle schools,” said Biddle. “It was just a matter of the kids dropping everything and heading out to the playground. It was a good end to the week.”
Watching the performance was more like being at a movie set than watching a concert, Biddle explained.
“It was funny in a lot of ways, because it was really a setup,” he said. “The kids were told not to turn around at first, and when Kenny finally pulled up in his Jeep, he had his guitar across his lap and all the kids cheered. They’d cut in the middle of a song, which was funny, because they wanted to get a new shot.”
“It was not so much this ongoing concert as it was an exciting show,” Biddle added.
School administrators had to explain to some of the younger kids who Kenny Chesney is.
“We told those who didn’t understand that Kenny Chesney was a famous musician,” said Biddle. “I think half of the preschool and kindergarten kids were as fascinated by the cameras as they were by Kenny Chesney.”
The older kids, however, were well aware of Chesney’s fame and talent.
“It was interesting to see the third and fourth graders, because they were well aware of who he was,” said Biddle. “They had a handful of songs in mind that they wanted him to sing.”
Chesney spoke with the kids, and took requests from the audience.
“He sat down and spoke to the kids, and he was very sweet,” said Biddle. “He asked them what they would like to hear. He had some troubles getting answers that led to actual songs, but he finally played, most successfully, Bob Marley’s ‘Three Little Birds,’ and the kids sang along.”
Chesney himself chose the Gifft Hill School location for the performance segment of the 60 Minutes program.
“The idea struck him that he wanted to sing for a group of kids,” said Biddle, who heard of Chesney’s idea from a friend of the performer’s. “He is familiar with our school, and naturally his mind came to the lower school here.”
The lower school’s playground and views made the perfect backdrop for the performance, Biddle explained.
“I think the playground is really sort of quintessential and cute,” he said. “It was a beautiful day. It was pretty hot, but there were occasional breezes.”
Chesney spent time mingling with the school’s staff after the performance.
“I spoke with him afterwards for a bit,” said Biddle. “He was very friendly and talkative with the whole staff. He was a very nice guy.”
Gifft Hill School students were excited to appear on 60 Minutes.
Appearing on TV “Icing on the Cake”
“The second half of the fun now is for the kids to watch 60 Minutes and see themselves,” said Biddle. “It will be the full circle of why the camera was running around. That will be the icing on the cake.”
Chesney’s publicist, Holly Gleason, would only confirm that the 60 Minutes segment is a profile of the performer that was shot on the road, and on St. John.
The profile was scheduled to air on 60 Minute’s Sunday evening, November 12, episode.