Chesney and McGraw got to know each other living in the same apartment complex 20 years ago, cemented their friendship opening for George Strait, and joined forces in 2001 when McGraw invited Chesney on the road at a pivotal moment in his career. They're teaming again from the pinnacle of country music.
"It's two artists who've known each other for 20 years, who've been friends for 20 years ... at the top of our game to be able to go out and do this together," McGraw said. "To get two artists to agree on anything is pretty spectacular. But to agree to go out together, do a tour together and just have a great time together and play music together is a pretty unique and remarkable thing. And I think that can only happen with guys who are as good of friends as we are."
The tour, dubbed the Brothers of the Sun Tour, will kick off June 2 in Tampa, Fla., and wrap Aug. 25 in Foxboro, Mass. Along the way there will be stops in many of the nation's largest cities, including East Rutherford, N.J., where Chesney set a record this summer for paid attendance to a live country show in the New York City area. There's also a stop in Nashville, a place neither artist has played regularly.
"It seemed time," Chesney said. "There was no other reason than that. It just seemed like it was time for us to play at home again. It's a really ironic place for us to play because we played in the shadows of that place for so long, right downtown in all these bars ... for tips. Now all we have to do is go across the river."
"All we're really trying to do is keep from having to go back and play for tips," McGraw joked.
There will be no need for that. Both rose from tip-jar status to the superstar level and Chesney is currently country music's undisputed top live draw. He sold more than 1.3 million tickets on his tour this summer - he's topped 1 million eight times now - and fills stadiums regularly. He's not just one of country's top draws, but one of music's.
Chesney has always been ambitious, but this tour takes it a step farther. He says there's nothing like standing on stage with 60,000 people singing your songs back to you. The chance to do it 18 times will be spectacular.
"I love seeing that passion on everybody's faces up there and all those people that are singing your songs back to you," Chesney said. "And to be able to do it with your buddy and see it happen to him and us together, it's going to be special. It may not happen again."
It's the kind of moment both daydreamed about while living on the outskirts of Nashville. They played hot dog stands and dive bars, places like The Turf and Skull's Rainbow Room.
They have so many stories, though few they're willing to tell publicly.
"We've got our own demons, we've got our own fun, we've got a lot of friendship going into next summer," Chesney said. "There is one story I can tell about Tim. ... I remember vividly a girl knocking out a windshield of his car with a baseball bat. I remember that."
"Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. That's all that needs to be said about that," McGraw said as both laughed at the memory. "I remember the electricity being off a lot (and saying), `Bring some burritos and a fire log. Bring your guitar and we'll sing George Strait's greatest hits."'
AP writer Caitlin R. King contributed in Nashville to this report.