For country singer Jason Aldean, it may have just been one of about 25 quick “meet-and-greets” he had with fans prior to his Saturday night concert at the Darien Lake Performing Arts Center.
But for R.J. Bastedo, the 18-year-old Gowanda man with Down syndrome who considers himself the world’s biggest Jason Aldean fan, the backstage meeting was the thrill of a lifetime.
According to his mother, Bastedo “loved every minute” of his brief, long-awaited meeting with Aldean, and the ensuing concert Aldean put on before a big audience at Darien Lake.
“It was a fast meet-and-greet. R.J. was one of about 25 people waiting in line. But, oh my God, it was exciting for him,” said Kelly Bastedo. “It was one of the biggest moments of R.J.’s life. He can’t stop talking about it.”
“It was awesome,” R.J. told The Buffalo News in a telephone interview the morning after the show. “I gave him a fist-pump and a high-five. He told me, ‘Read all about you in the paper.’ ”
For about a year, Kelly Bastedo, her sister Jodie Denne and R.J.’s longtime teacher’s aide, Deborah Jolls, have been making phone calls, writing letters and sending emails to dozens of people connected to the world of country music. Their goal was simple – to arrange a meeting between R.J. and Aldean, the singer he idolizes.
The effort, according to Kelly Bastedo, seemed to be going nowhere until Buffalo News reporter Gene Warner wrote about it in a story published Aug. 2.
Shortly after the story was published, Warner got an email from a guy named “Jason” who claimed to be Aldean and said he was “really flattered” by the article and wanted to meet R.J. before the concert, Denne said. Warner relayed a copy of the email to R.J.’s family.
“The Jason who sent the email said he was going to leave two meet-and-greet passes for us at Darien Lake. Problem was, we really didn’t know for sure until we got there that this email came from the real Jason Aldean, or that the passes would be there,” Denne said.
The email turned out to be the real deal. Denne found herself accompanying R.J. to a backstage area, where they waited in a line with about 23 other people for brief, one-on-one meetings with Aldean.
When R.J. got his turn, he gave Aldean a special T-shirt he had made for him, and a copy of The News article. They spoke for about four minutes and posed for photographs that are expected to be posted on Aldean’s website sometime soon. Aldean autographed a compact disc for R.J. Denne, next in line, watched it all with a huge smile on her face.
“Jason said hi to R.J., and R.J. told him he is a great singer and a great man,” Denne said. “When I got up there, I was a little teary. I told Jason, I don’t know if you were the person who sent that email, but if you were, thanks so much. He said, ‘Absolutely, it was me ... Didn’t some guy named Gene write that article?’ ”
After the meeting, R.J. ran back to his mother, proclaiming that Aldean is the “coolest dude” he’s ever met in his life.
“He was so ecstatic. He couldn’t stop jumping up and down. He danced through the entire concert,” Kelly Bastedo said. “We didn’t get home until about 1 a.m., and he still talked about it for the next two hours.”
Bastedo said she wants to thank a music industry veteran – Jim Pendolino, who has worked as a tour manager for Aerosmith, the Allman Brothers and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra – for making sure the meeting happened.
Pendolino “told us he read the article in the paper and got in touch with Jason’s people to make sure they knew about it,” Denne said.
When R.J. got up late Sunday morning, the first thing he did was a telephone interview with a reporter. Then, he bounded into the kitchen for breakfast, with his new “Jason Aldean” baseball cap perched on his head.
“He’s never going to forget this,” his mother said.