Jason Aldean is one of those country studs that could be rocking Heinz Field next year in place of the idle Kenny Chesney.
The 36-year-old singer from Macon, Ga., made his case Friday night at a First Niagara Pavilion once again packed beyond 20,000 and weekend rowdy for a country concert. Of course, we should make that country-rock concert because you can tell Mr. Aldean was just as much influenced by John Mellencamp, Steve Earle, Skynyrd and even AC/DC as he was Johnny Cash or Waylon Jennings.
Same goes for opener Jake Owen. He stems from Nashville via Vero Beach, Fla., so it's no surprise he breaks the mold with a long-haired, barefoot beach party vibe. In fact, he was actually barefoot, running around the stage in jeans and a Myrtle Beach T-shirt and putting his smooth baritone to songs about sun, sand and summertime.
He was greeted like a headliner and delivered, with a loud rock band at his back. They plucked a song from another Florida band, Skynyrd's "That Smell," before going into his big hit "Barefoot Blue Jean Night," wrapped around a snippet from "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." His more recent single "Days of Gold" was a wild, bluesy hootenanny with harmonica blowing and the band at double speed. When they were done, it almost seemed like the show was over.
He gave way to the less fleet-footed Mr. Aldean, who arrived in the more traditional plaid shirt and cowboy hat with a set of souped-up songs about small towns, dirt roads, true-blue country girls, tractors, trucks and so forth that he didn't have to bother to write.
He doesn't have the smooth vocal chops of a Chesney, McGraw or Owen, but he gets the job done with persistence and rugged grit. The show started loud with "Crazy Town" and kept the hammer down for rumbling country-rockers from his four albums.
He stopped early for shout-outs to the first-place Pirates and Steelers, then said, "It's good times in Pittsburgh -- and it's about to get gooder tonight."
To help get things gooder, he brought his own loud, scorching band and yet another formulaic hit album, "Night Train," which added the driving "Take a Little Ride," the earnest title track and "1994," a party song that's chorus is a shout to Joe Diffie, just like early hit "Johnny Cash" referenced cruising down the road with the legend on the radio.
He reached back to his not-too-distant past for the steel-pedal ballad "The Truth" and "Fly Over States," a homey anthem for the Midwesteners, and into the Alabama catalog for "Tennessee River," the most countrified song of the set.
Booty-call ballad "Don't You Wanna Stay" brought Kelly Clarkson back to the stage via the magic of holographic technology. That was really Willie, though, from "Duck Dynasty" who ran out between songs to wave.
Late in the set, he revved up the songs that brought him here: "Big Green Tractor" (a better way to get to the show than a car given the Parkway traffic), the country-rap track "Dirt Road Anthem," "She's Country" (with the "Back in Black" riffs) and signature tune "My Kinda Party." You could tell by the reaction that his kinda parties are only going to get bigger.
Scott Mervis:Smervis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2576. First Published August 17, 2013 3:15 AM