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Jason Aldean enjoys taking the stage

Jason Aldean knows what he has to do every time he walks out onstage.

He's not going to just stand at the microphone and sing, especially now that he's headlining arena and pavilion shows. He's going to deliver more than just a live version of the songs that bring people in to see him.

"If somebody wants to hear you sing, they can go buy the record and pay 12 or 15 bucks," Aldean says. "When they pay 40 or 50 bucks for a ticket, they want to be entertained. There's a difference between being a singer and an entertainer. I consider myself more of an entertainer than a singer."

Well, maybe not just an entertainer. Aldean, who performs on Friday at First Niagara Pavilion in Burgettstown, really sees himself as an entertainer who can sing or a singer who can entertain.

"There's plenty of people that can sing and plenty that can go out and be entertaining and can't sing a lick -- you usually call those people comedians," he says. "To be able to sing and be an entertainer, that's what you want, that's what you have to do. It's something you can't fake. You're either born with it, or you hone your skills for years and years."

Aldean, who's 34, might have been born with it. But the hottest act in country music has been honing his skills for more than half his life. Learning guitar from his dad while he was in middle school, Aldean started playing with a house band in a Georgia nightclub at 15, and played clubs across the Southeast before moving to Nashville in 1998.

He landed a deal with indie Broken Bow Records, released his self-titled debut in early 2005 and was named Top New Male Vocalist at the 2006 Academy of Country Music Awards. By then, Aldean and his band had graduated to arenas, first opening for bigger acts, then, as his popularity increased, headlining his shows.

"Bars are where I started. I'm really comfortable playing in bars," he says. "When it comes to arenas, I look at that as a big ... nightclub. It was something I was looking forward to, to get to that level."

Now, that he's made it there, Aldean is a happy man.

"I love it, man," he says. "The big stage is it. Playing an arena allows the people to see our full show and not some stripped-down version of what we want them to see."

What follows is a show packed with hits that are more rockin' than most contemporary Nashville fare.

"Every artist wants to find their own thing, what makes them unique and special. I think that's what makes being an artist cool," he says. "Mine came from the days of me playing a George Strait song, then turning around and playing a John Mellencamp song and then playing a Guns N' Roses song. Over time, you don't even think about it. It becomes your thing."

His stylistic mix likely has deeper roots than the songs he played coming up. Aldean is from Macon, Ga., the home of the Allman Brothers and legendary Southern rock label Capricorn Records, soul great Otis Redding and the quasar of rock 'n' roll, Little Richard.

"It is hard to grow up somewhere like that and not be

influenced by all kinds of music," he says. "I spent a lot of time listening to all those people, the Allmans, Otis, Little Richard."

Aldean's jacked-up brand of country likely wouldn't have made it through the filter of Nashville's major labels. But Broken Bow let the headstrong Georgian make the music he wanted to make -- from Day 1.

"Fortunately, for me, I'm on a smaller label that allows me the freedom to experiment, to do my thing and do it the way I want to and not put a stranglehold on it," Aldean says. "Because of that, it's allowed us to find our sound. A lot of labels shape and mold the artist, and take all the creativity and freshness out of it."

Aldean's music really has connected during the past two years. The combination of "She's Country," "Big Green Tractor" and "The Truth" had Aldean spending more time at No. 1 in 2009-10 than other any male country artist.

Then, came last fall's chart-topping album "My Kinda Party," which generated the No. 2 hits "Crazy Town" and the title cut, and the current single, "Dirt Road Anthem," just recently hit No. 1. This has helped propel Aldean into larger venues.

"I can't complain at all," he says. "The last year has been pretty amazing. ... (Last year's success) is a combination of a lot of things. It's definitely a being-in-the-right-place-at- the-right-time sort of thing. But it's also being prepared when your time comes.

I wanted to make sure it didn't slip away."

Additional Information:

Jason Aldean

With: Chris Young and Thompson Square

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Admission: Sold out; no tickets will be sold at the show.

Where: First Niagara Pavilion, Burgettstown

Details: 800-746-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com

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