by Bill Paddack
Jason Aldean dished out small-town imagery and described a perfect shindig, Jake Owen unleashed his passion for Southern summer nights and Thomas Rhett contemplated having a little talk with Jesus over a beer.
Welcome to the North Little Rock stop of Aldean’s "Night Train Tour." The three talented young vocalists dispensed their own brands of country — all heavy on pop and rock influences — Saturday night at Verizon Arena in a concert that ran well over three hours.
Best known among the three and the reigning Academy of Country Music Male Vocalist of the Year, Aldean likes singing about towns in the South. In this concert alone, he served up “Crazy Town,” “Tattoos on This Town,” “This Nothin’ Town” and “Hicktown,” the latter an up-tempo number that has become his signature song. It pays homage to football games, muddin’ and buying beer at Amoco.
A hologram of duet partner Kelly Clarkson joined Aldean on their nice Grammy-winning ballad “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” and he saved his anthem to good times, “My Kinda Party,” for the encore. It’s the one where he’s “in the back of a jacked-up tailgate … chillin' with some Skynyrd and some old Hank.”
Before Aldean hit the stage, fans got an hour’s worth of Owen, a past ACM Top New Male Vocalist honoree. We won’t try to say he upstaged the headliner, but with a confident and incredibly energetic stage presence, an infectious smile and a handful of hits, he more than held his own.
“Barefoot Blue Jean Night” was, of course, a crowd favorite, with lines like “we were shining like lighters in the dark in the middle of a rock show.” And he sent the crowd of 13,139 into a frenzy when he and his band mates belted out the Beastie Boys’ "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)"
Wearing an Arkansas flag T-shirt during his stint on stage, Owen slowed it down for perhaps his best song, “Don’t Think I Can’t Love You,” and also pleased with “Alone With You,” “Southern Summer” and “Eight Second Ride.”
Opening-act Rhett, aka Thomas Rhett Akins Jr., son of singer-songwriter Rhett Akins, only had time for five songs, but he made the most of it. “Something to Do With My Hands” and “It Goes Like This” were enjoyable, but it was the curiously terrific “Beer With Jesus” — “ask him how'd you turn the other cheek to save a sorry soul like me” — that was the most memorable.