Lives and careers have tipping points, days when investments pay off and when a bunch of scattered puzzle pieces suddenly fit together. For Jason Aldean, the game changed on a night in 2006.
"We were playing a show in Portland, Oregon. It was a little club, just an acoustic show," says the Macon, Georgia native. "'Hicktown' (Aldean's first single) had been doing okay. It was probably 25 on the chart or something. The club was basically sold out. And we went into 'Hicktown,' and the place just went crazy."
The Clay County Fair grandstand audience will be the next to go nuts for the emerging country star, who headlines on Sunday Sept. 7 with special guest Eric Church. Tickets are on sale now for $24 and $19.
"Hicktown," propelled by a spanking beat and a girls-gone-hillbilly-wild video, would go Top 10 before long. "We couldn't even hear ourselves for people singing to us," he recalls. "And that was the first time when I got the feeling that we had a hit. We had had pretty decent crowds at our shows, but it seems like from that show on things turned a corner."
Aldean broke through a crowded field, capturing the Academy of Country Music Award for Top New Male Vocalist and earning a gold album just 12 weeks after his debut's release. Aldean followed up "Hicktown" with "Why," a fist-to-the-heart ballad that rang the bell at No. 1 on radio and CMT.
Now he's dropping his second album, a collection of songs that sustain his emphasis on relatable, recognizable lyrics while pushing into new sonic territory. The standout tracks include a tight duet with fellow rising star Miranda Lambert on "Grown Woman," the brooding "Back In This Cigarette" which almost screams to be made into a video, and the swampy groove of "I Break Everything I Touch." The project narrowly dodged disaster when a fire at Nashville's Treasure Isle Studio very nearly destroyed the recordings during the final mastering stage. The project is titled "Relentless" after a particularly feverish cut on the disc.
After teaching himself to play guitar, he's played to honkey-tonks with 15 people, and now finding his way to huge arenas.
Aldean gets pumped up to sing live the way college quarterbacks fire up for games. The Tennessean called his music "amped-up contemporary country, with Southern rock and honky-tonk influences." He plays an aggressive style on a hard pace, 200 shows a year.
"I was playing clubs when I was in high school," says Aldean. "But it was one of those things where I don't know if people knew how serious I was."
He had to choose between a college baseball scholarship and music."I was in bars every night, having fun, playing music. At that point I threw everything I had into it."