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Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney still lean on each other in good times and bad

It's Fan Fair 2001 and Kenny Chesney is firing up the crowd at Adelphia Coliseum. Fans cling to every word of Kenny's songs, pumping their fists on smash hits like "How Forever Feels" and "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy."

"I want to pay tribute to my good friend, Tim McGraw," says Kenny, launching into Tim's hit "For A Little While." Suddenly a familiar figure strolls to the stage - none other than Tim himself!

The crowd erupts in screams as flashbulbs instantly light up the night. After finishing another tune together - Tim's No. 1 smash, "I Like It, I Love It" - applause shakes the stadium. Beaming in the spotlight, Tim and Kenny give each other a heartfelt hug.

Moments like that define the tight-knit friendship of Tim and Kenny, which first saw the light of day more than 10 years ago. Tim - who keeps one of Nashville's busiest schedules - felt it important enough to come out and support his buddy. And Kenny has always drawn strength from that support.

"I don't look at him as a mentor," says Kenny. "I look at him as a big brother. Tim got his record deal long before I did, and went through a lot of pressures before I did. He experienced success first and he's been there to give me some advice on things. Tim's been a great friend to me - on and off the stage."

Tim and Kenny moved to Music City around the same time - Tim in 1989 and Kenny a couple of years later. For a brief period, they even lived in the same apartment complex.

"We had similar backgrounds and taste in music," recalls Kenny with a grin. "So we became friends long before we had hit records. It was one of those things where you meet someone and it's like you've always known them."

A couple of single guys on the prowl, they had everything in common.

Says Tim, "Kenny and I met around 1991, and we hung out all the time. We went to parties, dated the same girls. We crashed in each other's apartments and went to clubs together and sang."

But life wasn't always wine, women and song - Tim and Kenny had to survive the hard times, too. They paid the typical newcomer dues, playing clubs for a few bucks and tips while pitching themselves to the record companies.

"Looking back, it's hard to believe we didn't get discouraged or doubt ourselves," says Kenny. But they kept their spirits high and their hard work and persistence paid dividends - Tim made his debut in 1992, Kenny a year later.

Learn about this blossoming friendship in the current (7/23) "Newsstand Issue" on sale now!