This is a Saturday in Athens like no other.
Thousands of people will converge upon the town and enter Sanford Stadium, as is typical in fall or on G-Day. It won’t be the Bulldogs the fans will be cheering on, instead it will be the first concert between the hedges.
Rarely is Sanford Stadium used for anything outside of football games and graduation. In 1996 the soccer portion of the Olympics was hosted here, but after the response from the hedges being removed UGA was no longer interested in hosting those events.
Now Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Jake Owen and Thomas Rhett will grace the stadium. Three of the four are Georgia boys.
Aldean got his start in Macon, Bryan from Lee County and Rhett is from Valdosta. While Owen is from Florida, he is a Seminole and not a Gator — all is forgiven.
Point being, these musicians understand the importance of this city, this stadium and this university. In music videos you see nods to the Bulldogs, sometimes it’s a fan wearing the Georgia G, other times it’s lyrics about the Peach State.
Needless to say, the crowd not only understands that, but embraces it. The artists combine for a total of 14 No. 1 hits in the country charts, not to mention five No. 1 albums.
These are some of the biggest names in the genre, and they are names that have put Georgia on the map as a country music hotspot.
Then again, Georgia has always been a country music state. Artists such as Trisha Yearwood, Sugarland, Travis Tritt and even Athens’ whispering Bill Anderson and Brantley Gilbert have all represented this state well. Aldean and Bryan have just turned it up a notch.
There’s no other way of putting it — these artists are in their prime, and for some of them, they are going to be future hall of famers. Love it or hate it, they have altered the sound of country music.
It is no longer the soulful blue-collar ballads of the outlaw artists, the soothing harmonizing vibe of Alabama or the western troubadour singles of George Strait and Garth Brooks.
Instead it’s the gritty country boy songs of Bryan and Aldean. Sometimes it expands the borders of country and enters a realm of hip-hop, for instance “1994” or “Dirt Road Anthem.” But it only takes a song such as “Fly Over States” or “Do I” to remember it is indeed still country music.
Saturday is going to be historical, and it’s on our turf. Enjoy it.