It was a combo night of Georgia star-watching and beer-drinkin’ partying.
The excitement generated by Jason Aldean selling out two shows at Aaron’s Amphitheatre at Lakewood for two consecutive shows – a first for Aldean in his skyrocketing career – filtered into the crowd early Friday night.
Though Aldean mentioned to the AJC in a recent interview that Lauren Alaina, last year’s “American Idol” runner-up from Rossville, Ga., wasn’t scheduled to continue touring with him this summer, she was an early presence on the Lakewood stage.
With her hair trimmed to a cute bob, the noticeably slimmed Alaina confidently strolled through a handful of songs in her opening set, capping it, of course, with her hit, “Georgia Peaches.”
It wasn’t the last fans would see of the appealing young singer on stage – and they would get another surprise later on as well – but she sounded strong as she presented herself to the massive sold-out crowd of more than 19,000.
Next on this night of the red clay rascals was Leesburg native Luke Bryan, who proved himself the perfect hype man for the more low-key Aldean.
Storming the stage in his omni-present baseball cap and jeans, the impish Bryan ripped through “Rain is a Good Thing,” “Country Man” and “Someone Else Calling You Baby” with the polish and finesse of a performer of headlining stature.
“It’s good to be home in Georgia on a Friday night,” Bryan yelled from the stage, which only sent the well-lubricated crowd onto a new plane of whooping back in response.
Bryan is a sparkplug of a performer, and even when he slowed the tempo a notch on the easy-swaying “Drunk on You” and slid behind a piano for a perfectly decent karaoke version of Adele’s “Someone Like You,” his “Hey, bud, let’s have another brewski” charm never dissipated.
“Where are my deer hunters in the state of Georgia?” he asked the crowd before rolling into “Drinkin’ Beer and Wastin’ Bullets,” a song with lyrics that aren’t going to get compared to Dylan anytime soon. But for country music fans simply looking for a good time and a catchy chorus to sing along with, the song succeeds. Not to mention, despite its very country message, there was also plenty of “Rock of Ages”-worthy guitar squeals pushing the tune into rock territory.
Bryan hit the home stretch in his hourlong set with the rowdy fist-pumper “All My Friends Say,” which dovetailed perfectly into a few bars of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” before the affable singer called it a night (for the moment) with the hit he said he wrote for “a country girl from Georgia,” the inevitable, “Country Girl (Shake it for Me).”
During the unusually lengthy set change of about 45 minutes, DeeJay Silver kept the adrenalized crowd sated with a terrific mix of classic rock (Journey, The Outfield, Guns ‘N’ Roses) and current pop and country (LMFAO, a dance mix of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5”).
But by the time he segued into the obvious get-ready-for-Jason-Aldean music – AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” – the audience was becoming fidgety waiting for the country star’s arrival.
The unassuming Aldean, in his usual uniform of plaid shirt, jeans and cowboy hat, bounced down a ramp from the back of the stage for the set-opening “Johnny Cash,” a hit from 2007.
Aldean, who plays another sold-out show at Lakewood on Saturday, stuck to the recent past with “Big Green Tractor” and “Crazy Town,” songs that were shouted by the always-standing audience as much as sung by the Macon native, who appeared genuinely touched by the support of what he considers a hometown crowd.
At the tour kickoff in Birmingham, Ala., Thursday night, Aldean was joined by Tracy Lawrence, a pairing Aldean referenced by saying that, “One thing I really wanted to do [on this tour] is pay tribute to some of my heroes.”
So for Atlanta, he requested Bryan – “one of my best friends” – to come back on stage. An admittedly sorta-drunk Bryan eventually said that he’d been “looking forward to doing this song,” before the two Georgians – alone on stage with their acoustic guitars – dug into “Sunday in the South.”
The pair also turned out a pretty version of “Dixieland Delight,” Lawrence’s “Time Marches On” and Bryan’s ode to his hometown, “We Rode in Trucks,” before Aldean and his band cranked back into “Tattoos on This Town.”
Knowing that Aldean had to sing his crossover hit with Kelly Clarkson, “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” it was natural to wonder who would provide those formidable female pipes onstage.
All hail Lauren Alaina, who returned to provide respectable vocals on the song – a bit of “American Idol” synergy at work.
It wasn’t the only surprise Aldean had cooking, as Atlanta’s Ludacris also popped up to perform his Grammy-nominated hit with the rapper, “Dirt Road Anthem.”
A little more than a year ago, Aldean was thrilled to fill Gwinnett Arena. Now, his star has ascended so much that he’s embarked on an amphitheater-filling summer tour before releasing his next album in the fall.
Sometimes nice guys do finish first.
By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene
Follow me on Twitter: @ajclifestyle
Here’s our photo gallery from last night.