Ten minutes into his electrified Saturday night set, at the outset of “Tattoos on This Town” – one of his several songs about the vast road and wide-open memories – country-western superstar Jason Aldean made a proclamation.
But first he expressed gratitude to the opening bands led by Thomas Rhett and Jake Owen.
“I’m jacked up, more than usual for this show, I just found something out. As of tonight this is the biggest show ever at Darien Lake, right here. Basically what that means is we’re going to celebrate our asses off tonight.” The 21,000 fans roared.
Aldean and his longtime band of hard-rockers (steel guitar player Jay Jackson even made his banjo scream) moved to a trio of slower, pensive songs – “When She Says Baby,” “The Truth,” and “Fly Over States” – before getting back to cross-pollinated hard country-rock tunes. “Texas Was You” and “Johnny Cash” were perfect examples of new country’s embrace of the age-old loves of the genre – ladies, country, beer – while adding as a fourth an expansive love of rap, hip-hop, and dance music from the last decade.
Aldean’s note-perfect set included a rap-injected version of “Night Train,” his tour and 2012 release title that led into “Don’t You Wanna Stay” from 2010 featuring a duet with Kelly Clarkson. Clarkson did appear on an upper level of the multi-tiered stage, but as a cleverly-integrated video clip. He ended this “historic night” with more from his crossover oeuvre, all tempos and hearty lyrics met with pure adrenaline-fueled adoration.
Thomas Rhett set the night’s tone with decibels and rock riffs flying. Rhett, a deft songwriter (he co-wrote Aldean’s hit “I Ain’t Ready to Quit,” which both perform) laid down an exciting set with dance floor-ready grooves. Appreciative of the “ocean of country girls” before him, he led the crowd on sing-alongs to “If I Could Have a Beer with Jesus” and the lovely “Something to Do With My Hands,” his closer.
Deejay Silver deserves special notice for his melding of hip-hop/classic rock/country rousers between sets.
If there was no spike in Jake Owen downloads late Saturday/early Sunday, I’ll eat one of my best cowboy boots: His set was pure magic. Emerging wearing a pale blue Willie Nelson T-shirt, he strode the stage – and front aisles – and burned it up.
Inserting improvised references to upstate New York in the lyrics, Owen took time to sip a fan’s offered-up can of beer, sign autographs, and dedicate his gorgeous “The Journey of our Life” to an audience member’s fallen brother, a service member killed in Iraq. Owen, pointing to the bracelet that he was wearing– a gift from the grieving brother acquired during his tour of the massive Darien Lake tailgating party – noted “we couldn’t come out on a Saturday night and drink beer without the sacrifice of people like William R. Wilson.”
Owen and band raged through song selections from all his releases, including the four-song extended play “Endless Summer,” with the jubilant anthem “Pass a Beer,” introduced with a hint about the one to come: “It’s my most rockin’ album.” His set touched on all four of the country-western loves, and more. The rollicking, swaggering cover of Van Halen’s “Jump” was an unforgettable retooling.
Owen and the other artists hitting the stage Saturday night are fuzzing musical boundaries, one power chord at a time.
Saturday night with Jake Owen and Thomas Rhett in Darien Lake Performing Arts Center.