- David Ching, SEC reporter
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ATHENS, Ga. -- The first time Jason Aldean visited Sanford Stadium, he stood on the sidelines to watch his beloved Georgia Bulldogs play football. When Aldean returns to the historic venue on Saturday, the country music superstar will be the main attraction -- and he'll make some history in the process.
Sanford Stadium has hosted presidents, royalty, Olympic competition and 423 football games, but never in its 84-year history has it hosted a full-fleged concert. At least not until Georgia natives and loyal Bulldogs Aldean and Luke Bryan take the stage Saturday evening.
"We both grew up huge Georgia fans," Aldean said. "Still, we're involved in that university when we're in town, we go there and hang out and go enjoy the campus and visit football players, all that kind of stuff. So they know how big of a deal this was to us, too, I think."
News of the concert was met with nothing short of hysteria among fans, with all of the more than 60,000 tickets selling out in less than an hour when they first went on sale last November. Earlier this week, approximately 2,000 tickets were for sale on StubHub and Craigslist, but the asking prices often ranged up to several hundred dollars for field-level seats.
"StubHub right now, it's kind of crazy, the price of some of these tickets," laughed UGA associate athletic director for internal operations Josh Brooks, who served as the athletic department's point man for the concert.
Certainly some of that fan interest is attributable to the novelty of this being the stadium's first concert. But Aldean and Bryan rank among the hottest current acts in country music -- at last Sunday's Academy of Country Music Awards show, Bryan won Entertainer of the Year and Aldean won Male Vocalist of the Year -- and are just as crazy about UGA as Bulldogs fans apparently are about them.
When they're not on the road, native Georgians Aldean (Macon) and Bryan (Leesburg) are regulars at Sanford Stadium on fall Saturdays. Aldean even visited Georgia's renovated football practice facility last year and met Bulldogs coach Mark Richt and a number of players including Aaron Murray, Chris Conley, Ray Drew and Ben Jones.
And when Aldean can't attend a game in person, he's obsessive about watching a recording on his tour bus afterward.
"I've got ESPN Gameplan on my bus, so I get to watch all the games," said Aldean, who will be joined on Saturday's bill by another Georgia native, Thomas Rhett (a Valdostan whose father, country singer Rhett Akins, attended UGA) and Floridian Jake Owen.
"And if for some reason [Georgia is] playing during the time of my show, I have a DVR on the bus and I record it and come back after the show and watch the game, don't talk to anybody on my phone and don't look at my phone until the game's over because I don't want anybody to give me the score. Yeah, I'm pretty insane with it."
Like many others, the 36-year-old's interest in the team was first piqued by a certain Heisman Trophy winner.
"My first memories of Georgia football are Herschel Walker," he said. "When I was a kid, Herschel was a stud and he was kind of the toast of the state, basically. So I got turned onto it at a really early age because of that, I think."
Now he's preparing to perform where Walker first exploded onto the college football scene, between Sanford Stadium's historic hedges. And that's not the only legendary sports stadium where Aldean will play in the near future.
On the same day last year that he announced Saturday's Athens show with a mini concert on the UGA campus, Aldean also appeared at Boston's Fenway Park and Chicago's Wrigley Field to reveal that he will play those fabled baseball stadiums in July.
Now that his fame has reached the point that he can branch out beyond theaters and arenas to playing stadiums, Aldean figured he might as well play stadiums that hold personal significance. Sanford, Wrigley and Fenway were great places to start for the big baseball fan who was a talented high school player.
"Instead of just taking a handful of stadiums and just throwing them out there, I wanted to play places that I thought were cool," Aldean said. "Obviously growing up in Georgia and being a Georgia football fan, that was the top one on my list.
"At the time, it was like, 'Well, they've never had a show there and they've never done anything like this at that stadium.' So it just kind of turned into a deal where it kind of goes back and forth from the university to my promoters and that kind of went back and forth for months," he said. "But originally it just came up as us sitting around going, 'Man, it would be really cool if we could play something like that' and then here we are a couple years later and getting ready to play it for the first time."
Also a big Atlanta Braves fan, Aldean listed Turner Field, Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium and Dallas' Cowboys Stadium as other venues where he'd like to someday headline a show. But he will cross off the top three sports facilities on his list by the end of the summer -- and he'll make history at the No. 1 stadium on his list when he plays the inaugural concert there this weekend.
"It's really cool," he said, "the fact that we get to be the ones to kind of christen it and break it in."
Jason Aldean loves the Bulldogs and has his memories of Sanford Stadium. Now, the native Georgian will play the first concert in the 84-year history of the stadium.