For Mark Chesnutt, a dose of ZZ Top and Van Halen every now and then is fine, but it’s honky-tonk music that reigns king.
The 49-year-old country singer will show his undying affection for the more traditional sounds and styles of country music when he headlines the third annual Festival on the Border , which begins at 6 p.m. Saturday at Harry E. Kelley Park at Riverfront Drive and North A Street.
“The people of Fort Smith can expect to see a great honky-tonk performance when we play there,” said Chesnutt during a recent telephone interview. “It will be a full-band show, so there will be lots of songs, a lot of energy and a lot of fun for everybody.”
Chesnutt said he and opening-act Eric Paslay will perform some of their best-known songs at the festival, which benefits Bost Inc., the Good Samaritan Clinic, the Alzheimer’s Association Arkansas Chapter, First Tee of Fort Smith, the Young Actors Guild, Children’s Emergency Shelter, Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Gregory Kistler Treatment Center and Making a Difference — Sparks Guild.
“I’m excited to play Fort Smith because playing music has been something I’ve been doing every since I was 16 years old,” said Chesnutt, a Beaumont, Texas native who has scored 14 No. 1 singles and 23 Top 10 hits. “I’ve always known that I wanted to play music, because music was always in the house when I grew up.
“My brother was playing Aerosmith, ZZ Top and Van Halen records when we were kids, and my dad was playing traditional country albums,” he added. “As for my mother, she was listening to Elvis and Ray Charles records.”
As a teenager, Chesnutt was developing his voice. Ironically, the die-hard country fan quickly became the lead singer and drummer of a local rock band, which performed at every open-mic night and other available time slots around Beaumont.
“The guys in that rock band used to tease me because I was the only guy in the group who liked country music,” Chesnutt said. “I was watching ‘Hee-Haw’ on TV and listening to singers like Merle Haggard and George Jones.
Chesnutt continued playing with the rock band, but his love for country music never faded.
“I’ll never forget the first time I heard us through a big sound system,” he said. “We were playing a rock club in Beaumont, and they had this massive sound system. We didn’t even get to do a soundcheck, but we played anyway. It was loud, and we sounded pretty good.”
Chesnutt had an even bigger moment of euphoria when he first heard his debut country single, “Too Cold at Home,” being played on the radio back in 1990.
“I was in my truck, and it was unreal to hear your own song coming over the radio,” he said before laughing. “I almost had to pull over.”
Chesnutt scored more chart success with the singles “Brother Jukebox,” “Blame It on Texas,” “Old Flames Have New Names,” “Bubba Shot the Jukebox,” “She Was,” “The Lord Loves a Drinkin’ Man,” “Trouble,” “This Heartache Never Sleeps” and “It Wouldn’t Hurt to Have Wings.”
In late 1998, Chesnutt recorded his version of “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” a song made famous by Aerosmith earlier that year in the film, “Armageddon.” Chesnutt’s version topped the country music charts while simultaneously nabbing the No. 17 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.
“I feel very, very fortunate to still be able to do this — record music and tour,” Chesnutt said. “I’ve been very lucky to have a career like I have.”
Chesnutt then laughed.
“Now I was a bit disappointed at first because I didn’t hit it big like George Strait,” he said with a laugh. “When I first started, I wanted to be as big as George Strait. We all wanted to be as big as George Strait when we first started out.”
Chesnutt admitted he was worried before he recorded his debut album, “Too Cold at Home,” in 1990.
“I knew I wanted to make it, but I was getting worried because I thought I was getting older,” he said. “But when I was 26, that’s when the success hit. But before then, I was nervous that it wasn’t going to happen. I was pretty scared.”
John Speck, chairman for the Festival on the Border, said he has no fear that Chesnutt’s upcoming concert will impress festival attendees.
“Having Mark Chesnutt at Eric Paslay at our festival will be a great thing for this community,” he said. “It’ll be wonderful to have a new, young talent opening and someone who is a great, multi-platinum artist putting on a great show for us.”
Members of the Young Actors Guild will perform selections from their various productions at 6 p.m. to kick-off the festival, Speck said.
“All of the artists involved sound like they will be really excited to put on a great show for us,” he said. “Seeing the excellent weather forecast for Saturday, we think that it’s going to be a really great festival this year.”
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Harry E. Kelley Park at Riverfront Drive and North A Street.
The third annual, all-ages event also includes a cabaret-style performance by the Young Actors Guild at 6 p.m. The event benefits the YAG, Bost Inc., the Good Samaritan Clinic, the Alzheimer’s Association Arkansas Chapter, First Tee of Fort Smith, Children’s Emergency Shelter, Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Gregory Kistler Treatment Center and Making a Difference — Sparks Guild. Tickets are $10 in advance and can be purchased at Arvest Bank’s River Valley branches, First National Bank, Citizen’s Bank & Trust, Bancorp South’s Central Mall branch, the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith Box Office at UAFS’s Smith-Pendergraft Campus Center, National Bank of Sallisaw, Bank of Rogers and Simmons First branches. Tickets will be $15 at the gate. Gates open at 5 p.m.