I had no idea who Jason Aldean was when I was asked to cover his sold-out Night Train tour. I’m a hip-hop head and aside from seeing Taylor Swift one time live — she was awesome, by the way — country is probably my least favorite genre right behind Gregorian chanting and Broadway show tunes. So of course, my sadistic editor thought it would be a hilarious social experiment to take the girl who covers Kendrick Lamar, Young Jeezy and French Montana, to see a guy who titled his first single “Hicktown.” After some cursory research, I found out that Jason Aldean is somewhat of country’s bad boy and his attempt at breaking tradition (He performed with Ludacris at the 2011 CMT Awards) has some critics haranguing him for “country turning into rap.”
Intrigued, I moseyed on down to Madison Square Garden Saturday night where I was immediately greeted with, “Hey darling, where’s your cowgirl hat?” Toto, I have a feeling we’re re not in New York City anymore…
The Show Started Early: Jason Aldean was slated to go on at 9:30pm. In rap time, that would mean I could saunter into the venue around 10:30pm or 10:45pm, knowing that I had ample time to snag a chewy pretzel and Slush Puppie beforehand. No rap show worth its weight starts on time and only losers are punctual. Jason Aldean, on the other hand, not only kicked off his show on time, but he started one minute early. Needless to say, I did not get my chewy pretzel and was thoroughly starving for the rest of the night.
The Crowd Was Well, What You’d Expect: Some stereotypes exist for a reason and the homogenous, overwhelmingly white crowd was exactly what you’d expect from a country music show. Jason Aldean was the consummate modern day cowboy in his wide-brimmed hat, snug flannel shirt and tight jeans with chain belt and his fans were decked out similarly. Interestingly, there was a palpable feeling of pride and it seemed as if fans, double-fisting their Coors, vehemently wanted to prove just how Southern they were despite our significant proximity away from the Mason-Dixon line. “I know we didn’t just have rednecks down in the South!” Aldean gleefully proclaimed at one point.
Call them what you want, but his fans came out to have fun. Throughout the night, couples (many spontaneously formed on site) danced in the aisles while others gave each other high-fives for no discernible reason. Compared to a rap show where everyone is tragically hip, mean-mugging and too cool to exude more than a requisite head now and again, I wouldn’t mind a high-five once in awhile.
No Technology Zone: The best part of Jason Aldean’s show was that I could actually see it. No barrage of camera phones blocking the view to the stage, no incessant chirping of social media. Concertgoers are increasingly too technologically savvy for their own good and instead of immersing ourselves in the live experience, everyone, present company included, is usually occupied Tweeting, Instagramming and thinking up witty headlines for blog recaps in the morning. This show was a welcome regression to 1998.
Jason Aldean is Pretty Good…and His Rap Doesn’t Totally Suck: Jason Aldean sounded pretty good overall, at least to my untrained ears. Guitar in hand, he performed a solid hour plus set with his live band and brought out surprise guest Kelly Clarkson for their duet “Don’t You Wanna Stay” (Unfortunately, Kelly did not stay for one of her signature Kanye-esque rants).
Culturally, some things I just couldn’t appreciate like John Deere references (“Big Green Tractor”), but the bones of his music are no different than any other genre. The bouncy “1994” is full of male braggadocio to get into some pretty young thing’s Wranglers while “This Nothin’ Town” sounded like his version of Drake’s “Started From The Bottom.” “Dirt Road Anthem,” the controversial song where he sort of raps, isn’t all that bad.
See also: The Ten Best Country Albums of 2012
Let’s be clear, Jason Aldean is not a rapper. His delivery is more on par with Paula Cole circa “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” than say, Rakim, but his bars are passable. Lines like “Smoke rolling out the window/ An ice cold beer sitting in the console” and “Better watch out for the boys in blue” could sit comfortably among the fold of today’s lyrically bland milieu. In the “anything goes” zeitgeist of today’s hip-hop (See: Macklemore, Future, Karmin, etc.), a guy in a cowboy hat could have a very lucrative seat at the table if he wanted to.
Without a doubt, this realization was the most terrifying part of the night.
Overheard: “There’s a misconception in Nashville that there aren’t any country music fans in New York City!”- Jason Aldean, inciting a wave of boos.
Critical Bias: I don’t like the aforementioned Macklemore, Future or Karmin.
Random Notebook Dump: Of course, I get floor seats at the Garden to a country show.