Jason Aldean returned to Nashville Friday night (Feb. 24) for his My Kinda Party tour and proved he is officially a country superstar.
In the week leading up to the event, talk centered on the fact that Aldean had yet to headline a concert in the city and was in some ways coming back to show how far he has come.
With the help of opening acts Luke Bryan and Lauren Alaina, Aldean sold out the city's largest indoor venue, the Bridgestone Arena, and got to show off his transformation to the music industry professionals who have watched his rise.
Rising from underneath the stage to the opening chords of "Johnny Cash," Aldean was greeted by the sound of about 17,000 roaring fans.
Many were decked out just like him: tight plaid shirt, straw hat and a well-worn pair of jeans.
Striding to the microphone, a satisfied smirk crossed his face as his hard rock-styled band hammered away at "Big Green Tractor," "Amarillo Sky" and "Why" before Aldean stopped to catch his breath.
All the while, the stage was bathed in red lights and hanging video screens that moved up and down, making the set look like the molten inside a volcano.
The concert helped cap off the yearly Country Radio Seminar, an event that brings disc jockeys and programmers from across the U.S. to town, and made it clear that Aldean has forged a solid place for himself in country music in the year and a-half since his My Kinda Party album was released.
He was no slouch before, to be sure, having scored four No. 1 hits and an ACM award for best new artist since 2005. But 2011 saw Aldean tally two more chart toppers, land high-profile TV performances on the CMA, ACM and Grammy Awards, collaborate with artists from the worlds of pop and hip-hop and officially take country rap from sideshow to main event.
So, just for good measure, he showed he can rock a crowd, as well.
He spent some time saying thanks and turning around to face the fans seated behind the stage --- it was 360-degree seating -- to sing the Ashley Monroe-penned No. 1 hit, "The Truth."
It was another testament to Aldean's popularity that people would gladly fill the seats behind the band, since that area was opened up after he had sold out the main arena. The performers did a good job of keeping them included in the fun.
"Crazy Town" inspired more than a little bit of hometown pride, and as a lead-in to his current single, "Fly Over States," Aldean announced he would have a new album out later this year.
Finishing up "Fly Over States," the confident Georgian tossed his guitar to the side and jumped off the stage. With a spotlight following, he made his way across the floor, slapping hands along his way to a small stage set up close to the back of the arena.
"I don't want to hear about your seats sucking!" Aldean joked with the crowd.
Letting his band take a break, it was just Aldean and a guitar when he announced "a friend from Georgia" would be joining him, his opening act Luke Bryan.
Bryan had delivered a stellar set earlier in the night, and the audience gladly welcomed him back to the stage. In fact, the cheers for his portion of the night were just as loud as those for Aldean. With a half dozen hits in his set, combined with a stage presence that sends girls into country convulsions, it's not hard to see Bryan headlining his own arena tour in the near future.
Their mini-set had an intimate living room concert feel to it, with the two singers playing off each other's humor.
"Tonight we are definitely in the South," said Aldean.
"So let's play an old Southern classic," Bryan chimed in.
They offered up Shenandoah's "Sunday in the South," then Tracy Lawrence's "Time Marches On."
Continuing on with the cover songs, the crowd got a taste of what Aldean and Bryan's kind of party might really be like.
In the middle of Alabama's "Love in the First Degree," a woman at the foot of the small stage removed her leopard-print bra and threw it at the hunky singers. The crowd doubled over in laughter as Aldean and Bryan stopped the song and retrieved the garment, holding it up for everyone to see.
"It's mine!" yelled the woman in the crowd.
"Yeah, it's an ice rink," said Bryan. "We know!"
It took so long for everyone to stop laughing, the two singers had trouble remembering what song they were playing.
Finishing up the mini-set with a heartfelt duet on "We Rode in Trucks," Aldean returned to the main stage for "Tattoos on This Town" and "Relentless."
Then, in perhaps the highlight of the night, Aldean began his smash No. 1, "Don't You Wanna Stay."
At just the right moment, former American Idol Kelly Clarkson appeared to sing her part in the duet.
After watching the two perform televised versions of this song at a few award shows this year, it became clear there is more to the picture than can be seen on TV. This live version was powerful and gripping, and Clarkson's vocals were amazingly expressive.
After that, the crowd stayed pumped up through "My Kinda Party" and head-banged its way through "She's Country," finishing out Aldean's night.
But as he headed off stage the arena began to vibrate with stomping feet and the roaring call for an encore became deafening.
The audience still had two of Aldean's biggest songs to hear, after all.
He returned with what may go down as a milestone track in country music and is almost certainly a career song for Aldean, the country-rap fusion of "Dirt Road Anthem."
Couples swayed and singles pumped their fists as the anthemic ballad spoke to the heart of small town rebellion, and they sang along with enough force for Aldean to hear it onstage.
With a look of amazement, he thanked the fans one last time and closed out the show with a flurry of wailing guitars and pounding drums on "Hicktown."
He may have started out as just another country kid from a "Hicktown" of his own, but Aldean showed he's on top of the world in country music now. It will be hard for anyone in Nashville to dispute that after Friday night.