Jason Aldean breaking wide on country scene
If you need a big dose of star power to top off your new country music festival, Jason Aldean is just the guy for you.
In an era when it's harder and harder for touring acts to break through to arena status — let alone stadiums — the 36-year-old Georgian is a standout success story, having soared to superstardom on the back of rugged-but-accessible country music with a touch of rock and a nod to contemporary themes.
Aldean had been a mid-level country presence for several years when 2010's “My Kinda Party” broke it all wide open for him: The record moved more than 3 million copies while producing a slew of blockbuster hits, including the chart-toppers “Dirt Road Anthem,” “Don't You Wanna Stay” and “Fly Over States.”
By the time “Night Train” arrived last year, Aldean had firmly ensconced himself in the top tier of touring acts. This summer finds him playing stadiums and high-profile festivals while racking up a few box-office records, including the all-time attendance mark at Boston's Fenway Park, where 70,000 fans snatched up tickets for two shows July 12 and 13 in less than an hour.
He performs Aug. 16 at First Niagara Pavilion, Burgettstown, headlining a show that also includes Dee Jay Silver, Jake Owen and Thomas Rhett.
Aldean spoke recently with the Detroit Free Press.
Question: The festival circuit seems to have a bigger and bigger role in the touring world, including country music. You're doing a bunch of big ones this summer.
Answer: I think they're cool. I've played basically every festival there is to play. Summertime rolls around, you get a chance to get outside, and it's fun. I think there's a reason you've seen a lot of these festivals do as well as they have. Obviously, Live Nation has been in the music biz for a long time. They know how to do this — they've been around enough to know the right and wrong things to do.
Q: Your career has taken you from the smallest out-of-the-way places to the biggest venues in America. I would imagine each is a new learning experience.
A: It's something that happens as your career grows — you start playing some of these festivals as an opening act, you move into the middle slot, you move up to the headlining slot. It's like anything else, learning to play an arena or a stadium. You get more and more comfortable with it. We've done this for a few years now as headliners. It's fun. I started out being the opening act playing at noon when nobody was out there, to now being able to headline some of the biggest festivals out there.
You want everybody there to have a good experience, whether in the front row or back row. For me, I just enjoy playing, I enjoy being onstage. When we play one of these shows, everybody is there to have a good time. It's just about going out and entertaining those people and trying to connect with them, saying, “We're here to have fun, and I know you guys are here to do the same thing.”
Q: You seem pretty intent on keeping yourself on your toes. You did the movie with January Jones (“Sweetwater”); you've collaborated with Ludacris and Lenny Kravitz. Is it important to keep pushing beyond your comfort zone?
A: I never want to go out and feel like I'm doing the same thing over and over. I love working with other artists. I love doing that stuff. A lot of the times when you work with somebody that's outside the country music industry, people look down on it because of ... just whatever. I don't get that, man. To me, music is music. Growing up, I was a fan of all kind of music — everything from country to rock, blues, R&B. There's artists out there I like that aren't in the country music world — that doesn't mean they're not great at what they do. I think sometimes when you take people from different ends of the spectrum, it's magic, and you don't know till you try. ...
I think it's cool to do that. When you get locked into that same thing year after year — “OK, this is my deal because I'm good at it” — that's not really any fun.
Q: But of course, that can bring its own sorts of pressures. “My Kinda Party” was such a huge hit. You'd found a formula that clicked. Did that weigh on the situation as you went into “Night Train”?
A: Not really. Sometimes I think, man, that was just kind of the perfect storm. The reason that album worked is because we did things the way we do them. I may not ever have another album that big. Who knows? We came out with the first single, had the duet crossover with Kelly (Clarkson) that went to country and pop, and “Dirt Road Anthem” was really the one that set the tone for that record. Just certain songs — nobody knows which ones are gonna do that. We thought “Dirt Road Anthem” was cool, thought it would be a hit, but we had no idea it was going to be a career-type song. All you can do is go out and do things the way you do them.
Q: Are you always looking for that next great song? Are you already on the hunt for the next album, for instance?
A: Oh yeah. I've got an email full of songs right now. That's the basic deal — you finish one record and immediately start listening for things for another record. In the grand scheme of things, the life of a record is a year and a half. By the time you go out and tour, do all these things, time flies. You're kind of constantly listening for songs, looking for that next thing.
Brian McCollum is a staff writer for the Detroit Free Press.