ATHENS, Ga. — Jason Aldean admits it was really hard to keep his big announcement a secret. It was a doozy, after all.
The hard-rocking country music star made a whirlwind run around the eastern U.S. on Thursday, announcing shows at Boston's Fenway Park, Chicago's Wrigley Field and on the University of Georgia campus in the space of 12 hours.
"I've known about these shows for a while so it's been hard for me keep quiet, you know?" Aldean said. "I found myself every now and then telling a friend, `You can't tell nobody, but, uh, guess what?'"
Aldean will make the first appearance by a country music performer at Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. And the show at Georgia's Sanford Stadium next spring will be the first – and mostly likely the last – between the hedges.
"This was No.1 on my list and to say I'm excited about this show, this is probably the most excited I've ever been about any of my shows," the Macon, Ga., and lifelong Bulldogs fan said.
Aldean managed to keep secret the announcement in Boston, where Red Sox players David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Jarrod Saltalamacchia helped announce the show as part of a clip played on the video board. But by the time he took to the air for Chicago, fans were on to him. One tracked his private plane and gave updates along the way. And as sundown came, students and even university officials were tweeting about the impending announcement, made by coach Mark Richt, and a surprise performance.
He played a handful of hits for more than 1,000 enthusiastic fans who turned out to Legion Field before getting aboard his bus to head to out on a short vacation with his family.
It's a well-deserved break. The singer released his fifth album, "Night Train," this week. That title is an apt metaphor for his career, which has been steaming along on a steep trajectory. About the only thing he hadn't attained yet was a series of stadium shows, and he's crossing that goal off the list on the "Night Train" tour in 2013.
Aldean is one of country's top draws, but the stadium appearances will move him into rare company. Currently, only Taylor Swift and Kenny Chesney regularly have that kind of drawing power. But Aldean has earned the status, selling more than 1.9 million tickets on his yearlong "My Kinda Party" tour that wraps up in Dallas on Oct. 27.
"You think about how long ago he started, you know, playing the small gigs, holes in the wall and honky-tonks. I mean that's what he did. How do you get here? There's no logical path. It has to consume you," said Chris Parr, one of his managers.
The stadium tour isn't the only sign Aldean's career continues to pick up speed. Billboard predicts "Night Train" will sell more than 400,000 in its first week, which would make it the year's No. 2 debut behind Mumford & Sons' "Babel." That's roughly two times what his multi-platinum fourth album "My Kinda Party" sold in Week 1.
And the 35-year-old singer is up for three awards, including top honor entertainer of the year, at the Country Music Association Awards on Nov. 1. The first single from "Night Train," "Take a Little Ride," had the highest-selling digital debut for a solo male country artist and was the fastest rising No. 1 on the country song charts this year.
"I think the reason is it's been two years since we released an album," he said. "Obviously, the `My Kinda Party" record was a big album, a career-changing album for me. I think it was just that wait, people anticipating the next album. And we put the album up on iTunes so people had a chance to go stream the album live, so I hope that's part of it – they actually like what they're hearing. That'd be nice."
Stardom hasn't been an endless highlight reel, though. He recently endured his first tabloid moment when photos emerged of an apparent kiss with former "American Idol" contestant Brittany Kerr at a trendy Los Angeles bar.
Interviews about his recent successes have been leavened with questions about that encounter. The married father of two apologized to fans in a tweet and asked for privacy for his family. He acknowledged Thursday that fame comes with some drawbacks.
"For me, I think the main thing was it was kind of a learning experience for me and made me realize, I don't know, that maybe I was under the microscope a little more than I thought I was," Aldean said. "But you live and learn, man."
The encounter hasn't dimmed his popularity, however, as his trip and its attendant buzz showed. He's been selling out concerts in minutes, setting sales records at more than 40 venues on his current tour. And that trend is likely to continue as he aims for 2 million in ticket sales and beyond. But it's no longer about the raw numbers.
Brian O'Connell, Live Nation's president of country music touring, said the goal wasn't to fill venues during the 2013 tour, but to make sure Aldean can share special moments with his fans.
"We're trying to find something unique instead of just laying out dates like everybody else," said O'Connell, who said the UGA concert was made possible by "divine intervention." "We really want to think it through, make the right decisions and check some stuff off bucket lists and make some history. That's what we owe him right now."
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