It involved an hour-plus “severe weather” delay (though it never actually, um, rained), but Jason Aldean got to check off the second stadium concert on his bucket list.
He achieved the first in 2013 with an historic play at Sanford Stadium in Athens – the first-ever concert held at the home of the Georgia Bulldogs – and was joined by Luke Bryan, Thomas Rhett and Jake Owen.
On Saturday, Aldean rounded up another pack of pals – Lauren Alaina, Luke Combs and Hootie & The Blowfish for a rare sighting – to sell out SunTrust Park, the only stadium date so far on his “High Noon Neon” tour. It was, as he said a few songs into his delayed set, “a date that has been circled on our calendar for a long time.”
At 10:10 p.m., the stadium lights dropped to announce the arrival of Aldean, 41, who pumped a fist at the top of a slanted ramp and quickly raced across the stage and down the catwalk as his band delved into the rock crunch of “Gettin’ Warmed Up” and “Take a Little Ride.”
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There are no pretensions with Aldean, a Macon native who grew up on Southern rock and classic country and blended his own recipe – and it’s one that has vaulted him to the pinnacle of country music success. From the Academy of Country Music (he’s the reigning Entertainer of the Year) to the Country Music Association and CMTs, Aldean has earned a shelf full of awards to accompany his 21 Top 10 Billboard Hot Country hits and six platinum-plus albums (2016’s “They Don’t Know” is certified gold and new album “Rearview Town” is headed toward gold).
With a chain hanging down one side of his bleach-splashed jeans, a black hand towel trailing out his back pocket and a plaid shirt, Aldean cut the figure of a laid-back country star (and one who is about to become a dad again).
His stage presence wasn’t overly animated – he dutifully played to all sides of the stage with mics set in several places – but he kept the crowd revved with reliable head-nodders such as “Tattoos on This Town” and “Night Train.” One of Aldean’s most impassioned vocals came on the 2005 hit, “Amarillo Sky,” which also featured a driving attack from his five-piece band.
He teased the crowd of 37,000 before “Drowns the Whiskey” by hinting that song mate Miranda Lambert was backstage (she was not); but the new single from his current album unfurled smoothly with the whine of a pedal steel guitar powering it.
Aldean and his crew have constructed a tight, polished show that touches every facet of his career, from his 2007 cranked-up homage to the Man in Black (“Johnny Cash”) to the thundering guitar riffs of “Lights Come On” to the obvious wedding playlist entry, the soulful ballad, “You Make it Easy.”
After a string of slower songs, Aldean re-iterated his love for the Atlanta Braves and said, “I know my people from Georgia – and you came here to party!”
With that came the adrenaline shots of “Hicktown” and “Dirt Road Anthem” - just more triumphs in his exceptionally deep playbook.
Prior to Aldean’s set, Darius Rucker and the Hootie gang – guitarist Mark Bryan, drummer Jim Sonefeld and bassist Dean Felber – plowed through slightly more than an hour of songs that transported the audience back to the days of hacky sacks and bro cargo shorts.
In one nod to their heritage, the band (backed by guitarist Peter Holsapple and percussionist Gary Greene) kicked off their set with the first song (“Hannah Jane”) from their first album, 1994’s massive-selling “Cracked Rear View.”
In another, they paid tribute to their South Carolina roots with the backdrop of a Waffle House, a clever video display that showed workers moving and, during the anguished “Let Her Cry,” rain streaking the “windows.” Continuing the theme, Sonefeld’s bass drum also sported the image of a waffle.
Although the band never technically broke up – they play together occasionally for charity shows and such – they sounded remarkably taut for an outfit that doesn’t perform regularly. Their harmonies were pristine on “Time” and their rootsy cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Hey Hey What Can I Do.”
Bryan pogoed in place in his ripped jeans and bare feet with the enthusiasm of his 20-years-ago self, while Rucker downed his trademark shot and traded smiles with his old bandmates.
Given his success as a country star, it wasn’t surprising for Hootie to indulge his work by playing the catchy “Alright,” a major hit for Rucker in 2009 (but it was cool of Bryan to promote Rucker’s solo tour).
Before a few more covers, including an admirably faithful “Losing My Religion” in a nod to Georgia’s R.E.M., the band brought out Jimmy De Martini of the Zac Brown Band to fiddle on “Desert Mountain Showdown” and “Running from an Angel.”
Of course, the well-lubricated crowd wanted to sing, and they were granted that option with a perky rendition of “Only Wanna Be With You” sandwiched between Kool & The Gang’s disco thumper “Get Down On It” and Hootie’s epic singalong, “Hold My Hand.”
North Carolina native Luke Combs presented a 45-minute set of burly songs to match is physique.
Strolling onstage in his trucker hat and boots, red Solo cup in hand, he rolled through newer tunes “Beer Never Broke My Heart” and “She Got the Best of Me,” a song he said he wrote in his apartment, “dreaming of days like playing the Braves stadium.”
Combs had the audience swinging along to his jukebox-ready combo of “Honky Tonk Highway” and Brooks and Dunn’s “Boot Scootin’ Boogie.” He also injected some Eagles flavor into “When it Rains it Pours” (and indeed, covered a piece of “Take it Easy” a few songs later) and ably showcased his soft side with the ballads “Beautiful Crazy” and “One Number Away.”
The easy-going Combs wrapped his performance with the song he said changed his life, his first hit, the rollicking “Hurricane.”
Rossville’s Lauren Alaina was tasked with opening the entire six-hours-plus of music, and the former “American Idol” favorite demonstrated she has plenty of confidence and sass.
She also had something monumental to celebrate – her engagement earlier that day to longtime boyfriend Alex Hopkins.
But Alaina packed plenty of fun into her 30-minute set, from an opening snippet of Queen’s “Fat-Bottomed Girls” to a rough-and-tumble cover of Guns N’ Roses’ “Paradise City” to her own hits, “Doin’ Fine” and “What Ifs,” her current No. 1 with fellow Georgian Kane Brown.
“My daddy raised me a Braves fan…this is the craziest moment of my life,” she squealed, before announcing her engagement.
Clad in a form-fitting jumpsuit that had to be a million degrees in the blazing afternoon sun, Alaina nonetheless projected a comfortable cool, as she clowned with her band and edged onto the catwalk like a seasoned pro.