This Sept. 21, 2012 photo shows country singer Jason Aldean performing at the iHeart Radio Music Festivalat the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas. (Photo by Eric Reed/Invision/AP, file)
ATHENS — There has never been a concert at the University of Georgia's Sanford Stadium, and after Jason Aldean stages one there next spring, there never will be again.
Aldean made the last of three surprise appearances Thursday at UGA's Legion Field, where he announced the springtime show and played six songs for a crowd called together under the pretense of a pep rally for the football team.
Recounting his daylong journey across the country, Aldean told more than 1,000 fans in Georgia, "And then we flew to my favorite place on the planet to announce we are doing a show in the cathedral of Sanford Stadium."
The performance wrapped up a whirlwind day in which Aldean also announced historic shows at Fenway Park in Boston and Wrigley Field in Chicago. The Georgia show wasn't much of a secret, however, by the time Aldean arrived, as fans and even the university tweeted about the appearance beforehand.
"I told everybody who works with me that if we were going to play any stadiums at all this year, the one place I had to play was Sanford Stadium at the University of Georgia," said Aldean. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime moment for me, and I couldn't be prouder to be from Georgia than I am right now. It's going to be a big one…Go Dawgs!"
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 during his appearances at Wrigley and Fenway.
"I have a love of baseball and a love of music," Aldean said in an interview near 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 unbelievable."
When Aldean 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, and 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 including 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 midafternoon ,the secret was already out and several fans stood outside waiting for a glimpse of Aldean.
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 up 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 proved 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 news 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."
Tickets for the UGA show go on sale Nov. 2 at 10 a.m. Tickets will be available at www.livenation.com, all Ticketmaster outlets or charge by phone at 800-745-3000.