Preview: Jason Aldean brings his rugged country rock to center field at PNC Park

They're country music's Boys of Summer 2014. Luke Bryan got the Steelers end zone in June, and now Jason Aldean plays center field at PNC Park on Saturday.

The two are close friends, sharing a business venture in the hunting company Buck Commander and playing shows together three out of the past four years. When Zac Brown trashed the Bryan single "That's My Kind of Night" as "the worst song I've ever heard," Mr. Aldean jumped on Instagram to say, among other things, "It's a big ol' hit, so apparently the fans love it, which is what matters."

Jason Aldean

With: Miranda Lambert, Florida Georgia Line, Tyler Farr.

Where: PNC Park, North Shore.

When: 6:45 p.m. Saturday; gates open at 5:30 p.m.; parking lots open at 2 p.m.

Tickets: Sold out.

This summer, they're too big for the same room.

The 37-year-old Mr. Aldean, from Macon, Ga., broke first, but it wasn't overnight. He was dropped by two labels at the turn of the century before getting his debut out on the indie Broken Arrow label in 2005 and getting on the map with the single "Hicktown."

He was put on the road with Rascal Flatts and Tim McGraw and charted three singles with his second album, "Relentless," but it was 2009's "Wide Open," with a ride in his "Big Green Tractor," that bumped him to headliner.

A year later, he was back with "My Kinda Party" (No. 2 on the album charts), cranking the guitars on the title track and scoring No. 1 singles with the romantic Kelly Clarkson duet "Don't You Want to Say" and gritty country-rap song "Dirt Road Anthem."

His last two trips here coincided with "Night Train," his first chart-topping album with another hard-rocking No. 1 country single, "Take a Little Ride," and a driving road song, "The Only Way I Know," with Mr. Bryan and Eric Church.

He's in the midst of wrapping up the next one, but first, he's on another "Night Train" victory lap. We talked to him last week.

In Pittsburgh, like Luke, you started at Saddle Ridge and worked your way up. How do you step up your game for a stadium?

I've always tried to sort of attack my shows that same way no matter where they are. I mean, obviously when you go into a stadium you're going to have bigger production, the stage is going to be bigger, and everything is on a little bit bigger scale. But for me, when it's show time, you go out there and play your show, and the goal is always the same: to make sure people have a good time.

Are there any performers on that scale that you've looked at in terms of how they handle a crowd?

Obviously the first one that comes to mind is Garth [Brooks]. He was kind of "the guy" for guys my age. When we were teenagers, he was the one guy who was doing that stuff, at least in the country music world. I grew up a big fan of rock music, too, so I look at bands like Bon Jovi and the Rolling Stones, who have all done that stuff. So, I think you draw a little bit from all those guys.

Early on you had some starts and stops at labels. Does that make this success feel sweeter, maybe like a vindication?

I don't necessarily know that it feels like a vindication. Obviously, at the time when all that happened it was frustrating to finally get a record contract and get dropped from a label before you even record one song for 'em. That's a little tough. At the same time, I look at it and honestly think everything worked out the way it was supposed to. Would my career have done the same if I had stayed at that record company, somewhere where people really didn't believe in what I was doing? No, not at all. So, it's hard for me to be upset about it. I think in the early days I probably had a chip on my shoulder about it, but the older I've gotten and where my career has gone, I also know that it wouldn't have worked out the way it has, so, ultimately, it turned out to be a blessing.

You and Luke are the big country guys of the summer, and when he came here he covered "The Only Way I Know." What is the relationship like between you guys? Is there a friendly rivalry?

No, I don't think so, man. The first time I met him was at a radio station. I was playing a show somewhere, and he was playing at a little bar somewhere for the afterparty. We met and hit it off and kind of became quick friends. Then, we ended up becoming part business partners in Buck Commander, which is a sister company of Duck Commander -- "Duck Dynasty" deal -- so Luke and I are partners with Willie Robertson in that deal away from the music business, and two out of three years we toured together and just kind of became good friends.

And, honestly, he was on the road with me the year his career exploded. So it was fun to watch that because a couple years before that he was opening for me when my career took off with "Dirt Road Anthem" and those kind of things. So it was cool to be part of. With what we do, not everybody understands some of the stuff you go through. So having someone else you can talk to, that's been a cool friendship to have. So, there hasn't really been a rivalry. Maybe if we have an awards show, whoever loses has to buy drinks at the bar that night or something, that's about it.

Your music and Luke's music comes under some criticism for being for party country or bro-country or not being country at all. What are your thoughts on that?

Hey, man, I don't pay much attention to that stuff at all. First of all, I think the term bro-country might be the stupidest term I've ever heard. I think people record the kind of music they want to record. And music's music. If you don't like it, don't listen to it. Because I'm going to cut songs that I like, songs that I think will be hits, things that I like to play and that my fans are going to like me to sing about. Anybody that it's not their thing, I don't really care. It's just one of those things where whenever anything is successful or doing good, people are going to find a way to tear it down. And you look at my songs, I've had songs like "Dirt Road" and "My Kinda Party," then we turn around and do something like "Night Train," and we had the ballad with Kelly Clarkson, songs like that. To say that all the songs we sing are like that, that's just ignorant to me, and I don't really put much thought into that stuff at all.

What do you think about this PNC bill, and what have your experiences been with the other musicians?

Miranda's on that show, right? Yeah, Miranda and I have been friends for a long time and kind of came up in the business together. I've always been a huge fan, so it's fun to have her back on the show. We did a few things with her last year, stadium shows. Florida Georgia [Line], those guys are on fire right now. We do a little thing with them every night. And Tyler [Farr] is one of my favorite people I've had on the road, and [he's] coming off a good year. It's good to help out your buddies like that. We just wanted to put together a fun show that will keep people entertained. And after the show, you're going to be hanging backstage, so we wanted to put together a show that was fun for us, too.

So, you have new music coming. What can you tell us about it?

We finished an album. We got a single coming out here very soon and an album that will follow it in the fall. So, we're putting the finishing touches on everything now as far as photo shoots, and it's going to be ready to go.

How has Pittsburgh been as a market for you?

It's been great. That's why we come every year. I was playing Saddle Ridge when I got the news that my first album went gold. We partied our butts off there that night, so that was my first memory of Pittsburgh, and we had the chance to go back and be the opening act for some people -- I think maybe [Rascal] Flatts and Tim McGraw -- and then had a chance to go in and start headlining ourselves. I'm a huge baseball fan, so I forgo a lot of the football stadiums just to be able to play the baseball stadiums. One of the coolest things is to go and see your stage set up in center field of a big-league ballpark and so that says something about Pittsburgh. The fact that we've gone from Saddle Ridge to PNC Park, it means that we've been well received there.

I don't know if you've heard anything about the problems here with country concerts.

I heard something about tailgating and cracking down on some of that stuff ...

Yeah, there have been people wanting to ban country concerts in Pittsburgh, and Luke tweeted to ask the fans to clean up after themselves. I was wondering if you'll do the same?

I don't know. I think for me, I need to educate myself more on what the deal is there before I do anything. But, obviously, if you go out and you're drinking beer, you don't want people just throwing stuff everywhere because ultimately you do know someone's going to have to come clean that stuff up. You want people to have fun but also be considerate. A lot of times when people are having fun, they sort of forget manners sometimes. I've probably been guilty of that myself. But it's kind of hard for me to comment, really, because, honestly, I'm not really educated on what's been happening there, so I hate to say a whole lot about anything. But I would hope that people who come out to the show are respectful of everything and not cause any more problems if there are problems there already.

Scott Mervis:; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg.

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