- Associated Press - Thursday, October 18, 2012

CHICAGO (AP) - As a kid, Jason Aldean thought he would eventually see his name on a scoreboard at baseball stadiums. He gave up that dream when he turned to country music, but achieved it nevertheless Thursday when he made two announcements at iconic landmarks.

Aldean continued his whirlwind tour of surprise appearances around the country by stopping in at Wrigley Field just hours after leaving Fenway Park in Boston.

“I have a love of baseball and a love of music,” Aldean said in an interview in front of Wrigley’s ivy-covered right-field wall. “To kind of combine those two _ not just playing any stadium but a historic stadium like this that has so much history _ to me it’s just unbelieveable.

When he returns to Boston, he’ll be making history. He’ll be the first country music star to play a concert at Fenway Park, the iconic home of the Boston Red Sox. The July 13 appearance will be the initial stop on his 2013 tour.

Aldean made the day’s first announcement with the Green Monster in the background with an assist from Red Sox President/CEO Larry Lucchino. Red Sox players David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Jarrod Saltalamacchia welcomed Aldean in a video, and he signed the wall inside the scoreboard, alongside historic figures like Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio.

“Being the first country music artist to ever come here and headline a show is amazing,” Aldean said. “It’s going to be a fun night. Over the last several years, my career, especially the touring side of that, has been pretty amazing. It’s been growing. So thank you guys for having us. I can’t wait for July 13.”

The Cubs gave him a blue team hoodie for the announcement in Chicago, where it was windy, cold and rainy. By mid-afternoon the secret was already out and several fans stood outside waiting for a glimpse of Aldean. He’s got one more stop to make Thursday night.

The Georgia native released his fifth album, “Night Train,” this week. That title is an apt metaphor for his career, which has been steaming along on a steep trajectory. About the only thing he hadn’t attained yet was a stadium tour, and he’s crossing that goal off the list.

Aldean is one of country’s top draws, but the stadium tour will move him into rare company. Currently, only Taylor Swift and Kenny Chesney have that kind of drawing power. But the hard-rocking singer has earned the status, selling more than 1.9 million tickets on his yearlong “My Kinda Party” tour that wraps in Dallas on Oct. 27.

“You think about how long ago he started, you know, playing the small gigs, holes in the wall and honky-tonks. I mean that’s what he did. How do you get here? There’s no logical path. It has to consume you,” said Chris Parr, one of his managers.

Aldean will be joined in Boston next July by Miranda Lambert, Jake Owen and Thomas Rhett. The area has proven to be receptive to country music. Chesney and Swift have sold out Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots, several times and Aldean has drawn enthusiastic crowds at smaller venues.

He’ll be joined on July 20 in Chicago by Kelly Clarkson, Owen and Rhett.

The stadium tour isn’t the only sign Aldean’s career continues to pick up speed. The 35-year-old singer is up for three awards, including top honor entertainer of the year, at the Country Music Association Awards on Nov. 1. The first single from “Night Train,” `’Take a Little Ride,” had the highest selling digital debut for a solo male country artist and was the fastest rising No. 1 on the country song charts this year.

Stardom hasn’t been an endless highlight reel, though. He recently endured his first tabloid moment when photos emerged of an apparent kiss with former “American Idol” contestant Brittany Kerr.

Interviews about his recent successes have been leavened with questions about that encounter. The married father of two apologized to fans in a tweet and asked for privacy for his family. He acknowledged Thursday that fame comes with some drawbacks.

“For me, I think the main thing was it was kind of a learning experience for me and made me realize, I don’t know, that maybe I was under the microscope a little more than I thought I was,” Aldean said. “But you live and learn, man.”

The encounter hasn’t dimmed his popularity, however, as his trip from Boston to Chicago shows. Fans followed Aldean’s progress across the country by private plane, tweeting his location along the way, and local media were talking about his surprise visit long before he arrived.

Brian O’Connell, Live Nation’s president of country music touring, said the goal wasn’t to fill venues, but to make sure Aldean can share special moments with his fans.

“We’re trying to find something unique instead of just laying out dates like everybody else,” O’Connell said. “We really want to think it through, make the right decisions and check some stuff off bucket lists and make some history. That’s what we owe him right now.”

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