With this week’s launch of CMT on Tour, Jason Aldean will be playing in a lot of college towns, which is a scene he’s definitely used to.
“That’s what I grew up doing,” he says. “When I first got out of high school, I put a band together and we went out on the road and hit a bunch of college towns and tried to get a following down in Georgia and Florida. And so for me, it’s a glorified version of that, you know, and it’s just fun. College kids get excited about whatever they do. Whether it’s going to a football game, going to a bar or whatever they’re doing, they get excited about it, and they have a good time. That’s what makes it fun for us to be able to go into some towns like that and feed off of that energy.”
The tour, which also features Lady Antebellum and newcomer Eric Durrance, kicks off Wednesday (Oct. 8) in Cullowhee, N.C. In a recent interview at CMT’s offices in Nashville, Aldean talked about the challenges of writing a set list, his friendship with the members of Lady Antebellum and what he’s learned from touring with Rascal Flatts.
CMT: For your fans who have seen you before, how will this tour be different?
Aldean: Well, this is the first tour that we’ve had a chance to go out and actually take our own stuff. Every other tour, we’ve been at the mercy of whatever we’ve gotten to use, as far as the lighting goes and sound and that kind of stuff. This is actually the first tour that we’re carrying out all of our own gear, so it’s going to be a completely different show than anybody has seen of us yet. I think that’s going to be the biggest difference. We’re working on the third album, so that will give us a good chance to test some of the songs and get some feedback on those.
How well did you know Lady Antebellum before the tour was announced?
We did a few shows with them earlier in the year. You play shows with a lot of different artists during the year, but it’s pretty rare when you play a show with somebody and not only do you like their music, but you also get a chance to hang out with them and instantly hit it off with them. And that’s how it was with Lady A and me and the guys in my band. After the show, we’re all hanging out and, instantly, we all became friends and hung out for a couple of nights. It was just one of those things. I called my booking agent and said, “You know, I really like hanging out with these guys. Let’s do some more shows with them later in the year.” We started working on that, and the next thing we know, it’s turned into being the CMT Tour.
Now that you’ve had a few hits, how do you decide what goes first on the set list?
The thing is, for us, we don’t have enough hits to be able to start off the show with the hits. We have to save those for a little later. But it just depends. When you start the show, I think a rule of thumb is you want to give people a couple songs to get out of the bathroom or get away from the beer tent or wherever they are, to get back in their seats before you start playing the songs they really know. It constantly changes where the songs are in the show, and you play around with them until you figure out what works and what’s comfortable. You’ve got guitar players that have to switch guitars for certain songs, so you try to pile them up where they don’t have to switch as much, you know, keeping their switches to a minimum. All that factors into it a little bit.
You talked about the early days when you were playing college towns. What do you think has changed the most about your performances from those days until now?
Back in those days, I was the same age as all those guys. (laughs) That’s probably the biggest thing. But you know, it’s still the same. I mean, college atmosphere is college atmosphere — whether it was 10 years ago or 20 years ago or whatever it is. Like I was saying, they get excited. A lot of them are out of their parents’ house for the first time, and they want to get crazy, and that’s what we want so it’s a good fit. It makes it a lot of fun to go in there and have people that excited that you’re in town and to come see you.
Are you feeling the pressure of headlining?
A little bit. I think being out with Rascal Flatts, Tim McGraw and Trace Adkins taught me a lot about what to expect. But at the same time, if we did a show with Rascal Flatts and nobody showed up, people would say, “There was nobody at the Rascal Flatts show last night.” Now if nobody shows up, then it’s on us. That’s the only crazy part. So I think it makes you a little nervous, but our shows have been really going great this year. The fans have been supporting us really well. We wouldn’t be going out attempting to do this if that wasn’t the case. I don’t think we would go out and put ourselves in that position if we thought we were gonna fall on our face. You know, it’s the beginning stages for us. I mean, this is the beginning of something. So we’re gonna go out and try it out this year and see what happens. We’re expecting it to be great and, hopefully, the beginning of us being able to go out and headline our own tours into next year and on down the road.
CMT Radio’s Lindsey Roznovsky contributed to this interview.