Stagecoach 2014: Jason Aldean gives the people what they want

Jason Aldean performs Saturday night at the Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio.
Jason Aldean performs Saturday night at the Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
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Jason Aldean’s purest, most Jason Aldean-ish song -- and therefore, perhaps, the one that got the biggest response during the singer’s headlining set Saturday at Stagecoach -- is “1994,” from his album “Night Train.” A ready-made crowd-pleaser set at the perfect beer-hoisting tempo, it’s got crunching hair-metal guitars, a bouncy hip-hop beat -- and lyrics made up in large part of the titles of songs by another country singer, Joe Diffie.

Aldean is a bro-country veteran with huge hits stretching back to 2005, five years before Luke Bryan (who’ll close Stagecoach on Sunday) was named top new artist at the Academy of Country Music Awards. But though he’s been with us for nearly a decade, Aldean has given us remarkably little sense of what he’s all about.

The obligatory explanation is that, unlike most bro-country stars, Aldean isn’t a songwriter; his thoughts on dropped tailgates and ice-cold beers come from others. But neither, really, is George Strait, who’s instead used his interpretative abilities to develop one of the most powerful personae in country music. Aldean, by comparison, doesn’t interpret anything -- he simply stands there in his short-sleeved shirt and bellows as fireworks shoot off behind him.


PHOTOS: Stagecoach 2014

How, then, to account for his festival-headliner status? Because what Aldean does -- and does more effectively than maybe anybody else at his level right now -- is reflect the values of his audience. On Saturday, his show felt like approximately 50,000 people taking pride in their ideas regarding small-town life, no different from the charge you might get standing in a crowd watching, say, U2 play “Where the Streets Have No Name.”

You sensed it when he performed “Fly Over States,” about “a bunch of square cornfields and wheat farms,” and “She’s Country,” accompanied by video clips of women driving trucks and riding horses.

You felt it during Aldean’s breakthrough country-rap hit “Dirt Road Anthem,” which the Stagecoach audience was happy to hear even after Brantley Gilbert (who co-wrote the song) played it the previous night. And you got it, of course, from “1994,” with its knowing valorization of a country singer generally disregarded outside Diffie’s fly-over core.

Aldean didn’t complicate these ideas in the manner of Eric Church or Miranda Lambert; he didn’t even engage them to any meaningful extent. But that hardly mattered at the far end of the gigantic Stagecoach Polo Field. Back there, Aldean’s fans weren’t looking toward the speck-sized singer in the distance. They were looking at one another.



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Twitter: @mikaelwood