CHICAGO -- On Saturday (Aug. 9) night, Jason Aldean kicked off his show with the song that kicked off Jason Aldean -- "Hicktown," his debut single from 2005.
With its rural-life brand-name checklist -- Bronco, White Rain, Pall Malls, Amoco and Kraco the music and message weren't much different than the other 18 songs Aldean played throughout his 90-minute set. And that's exactly why his shows sell out, night after night, in city after city.
Aldean never tries to be anyone but himself. His nine-year-old songs sound just like his brand new singles. His vocals are equally effective on the rockers and the ballads. Judging from the enthusiasm of the sold-out crowd at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre, that's just part of Aldean's appeal. You know exactly what you're going to get. Right down to his Wranglers and plaid, pearl-snap shirt.
"Hicktown" used to be the signature closer of Aldean's shows, so moving it to the opening slot may have been the biggest surprise of the night. The rest of the set list read like a Nashville hit list from the past 10 years: "My Kinda Party," "Tattoos on This Town," "Amarillo Sky," "Big Green Tractor," "Johnny Cash," "The Truth," "Take a Little Ride," "Fly Over States," "When She Says Baby," "1994," "Drivin' Around," "Dirt Road Anthem," "Night Train," "Don't You Wanna Stay," "The Only Way I Know" and "She's Country."
He also threw his brand new single "Burnin' It Down" -- the song he named his tour after -- into the mix. And of course he played the song that tells the story of the lives of all his country music brethren, "Crazy Town." He is living proof of the bridge from that tune: One year they repossess your truck/And the next you make a couple million bucks.
Earlier in the night, Aldean was gracious about thanking his opening acts, Florida Georgia Line and Tyler Farr. Once that was over, he added, "My name is Jason Aldean, and now it's my turn."
Florida Georgia Line's set was nearly an hour and was heavy with guitars and smoke, a good dose of banjo and some well-timed swigs out of a Fireball Whisky bottle during "Round Here."
They played all six of their big hit singles, from "Cruise" to "Dirt," but also did their cover version of Alabama's 1992 single, "I'm in a Hurry (And Don't Know Why)," which the duo recorded for last year's Alabama & Friends tribute album.
And they played some lesser-known songs from the time before their debut album arrived almost exactly two years ago. Album cuts "It'z Just What We Do" and "Party People" launched their set, and even though those were never radio hits, they have been staples of the duo's live show since before they had their first No. 1 song.
Tyler Hubbard ended their last song of the night, "Cruise," by taking his own Florida Georgia Line tank top off and throwing it into the crowd. The applause after that was deafening. It's impossible to know if the fans' passion was in response to the tank top or Hubbard's chiseled upper body.
The night's very first performer, Farr, also engaged fans by throwing something into the crowd -- himself.
Four songs into his short set, he jumped off the stage with a beer in his right hand and a mic in his left and ran out into the pavilion. He climbed up onto an aisle seat -- there were a few empty chairs because it was still early in the night -- and sang "Whiskey in My Water." He kept on singing as he walked down the path between the pavilion and the amphitheatre lawn, while smart phones everywhere documented his every move.
Farr is certainly not the first one to pull off such a feat. But coming from an opening act, instead of a headliner, it was a bold move that literally connected Farr to the country fans who might have otherwise just been killing time waiting for Aldean to take the stage.