Aldean transforms Amherst into “Hicktown”

By Kate MacDonald

Country superstar Jason Aldean played his biggest hits to a nearly-packed Mullins Center on Friday night.

The extremely vivacious crowd was made up of young kids, students and parents alike, all of whom cheered for Aldean as well as his openers The JaneDear Girls and Eric Church. All that could be seen all over the arena was flannel, baseball caps and jean shorts (on both girls and guys).

The JaneDear Girls were up first, performing a bevy of songs from their self-titled album, including the well-received “Wildflower.” It was Church, however, who was the star of the opening acts.

Based on the number of t-shirts worn bearing his face, there were almost as many fans who came to see Church as there were Aldean fans. Church, decked out in sunglasses, performed a set that was equal parts rock and country. Fan favorites included “Before She Does” and “How ’Bout You.” His last tune was “Smoke A Little Smoke,” a message which a few fans took to heart, judging by the amount of smoke rising high into the rafters of the Mullins Center.

As the smoke was rising, Church’s performance caused leftover confetti from the recent Dayglow concert to begin falling down from the ceiling.

After a short intermission, a projection of Aldean’s silhouette was seen on a large gray curtain hanging over the stage. The din coming from the fans was almost as loud as Aldean’s set, which, at times, was nearly ear-splitting.

The first song in the set was “Tattoos On This Town.” The singing of the crowd during the chorus was almost as audible as the country star’s. As the song was playing, various tattoo designs could be seen on the large video screen behind the band, which showed interesting video clips all night long.

The most fascinating visual shown by the screen was during “Don’t You Wanna Stay.” The tune, a highly-played ballad on the airwaves, is a duet between Aldean and pop star Kelly Clarkson. While Aldean began the song as the solitary singer onstage, Clarkson’s accompanying vocals could be heard during the chorus, and she soon appeared on the video screen, belting out her verses in a pre-recorded bit.

Light sections with small fiber optic, colorful screens hung from the ceilings over the band. It was somewhat distracting when each horizontal segment would move around the area over the stage, but they provided good strobe lighting over the massive crowd. They also helped to set the mood during certain songs. For instance, there were yellow lights sweeping the crowd during “Amarillo Sky,” and green-colored ones during his hit “Big Green Tractor.”

It was the beginning guitar riff of “My Kinda Party,” however, that elicited the biggest crowd reaction. Nearly every concert-goer danced and swayed with the music. During the single, Aldean strummed on an acoustic guitar, but, for the electric guitar solo at the end of the song, he showed his mean air guitar skills. Collective laughter could be heard all over the venue.

Those closer to the stage were also entertained throughout the concert by Aldean’s drummer, Rich Redmond. Redmond would get really into the music, providing great, solid beats that reverberated through the chests of audience members. He would also, in his excitement, make intense, funny facial expressions. This was especially evident during an amazing drum solo in the middle of the set.

Redmond kept the audience going during the high-octane concert. The guitarists and Aldean got very into each song, culminating in Aldean yelling, “Crank that b**ch up, let’s go!” right before “Hicktown,” the last song before the encore.

After the encore, Aldean and company played hit single “She’s Country,” as well as a great cover of Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive.”

The audience wasn’t disappointed in the least during any part of Jason Aldean’s concert. From the two opening acts to Aldean’s last number, nearly every member of the crowd was on their feet, dancing. Even the slow songs didn’t lag in intensity.

It was truly a great way to wrap up the Mullins Center’s school-year schedule. Like other country stars who have played in Amherst in the past, hopefully Aldean will make his way back to Amherst in the very near future.

Kate MacDonald can be reached at [email protected]