On Sunday night, Jason Aldean will look to defend his entertainer of the year title at the 53rd Academy of Country Music Awards, but coming to Las Vegas for the awards show means much more to Aldean than trophies — especially this year.
It’s a time for him to hang with his fellow artists, an opportunity that is all the more significant now since it will be the first time much of the country community will be together in Las Vegas since the mass shootings at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in October. Aldean was onstage when the massacre, which left nearly 60 dead and more than 500 injured, occurred.
“It’s cool any time I come [to Vegas],” he tells Billboard, but adds, “Probably for the rest of my life there will be a little bit of a weird feeling, at the same time. I love this city. I always have. I’ve had one night where it was horrible, but I’ve had a million great nights here and a lot of great memories. It’s always going to be a little strange coming here.”
Shortly after the shootings, Aldean visited victims in a Las Vegas hospital, which helped him start to heal, but he recently told the Associated Press that he is still dealing with the aftermath of the nation’s deadliest mass shooting: “You just sit there and relive it a thousand times a day.”
Aldean, who will play “You Make It Easy” on Sunday night’s CBS broadcast, appreciates the strength-in-numbers support the award show will bring. “I’m excited to come here for the ACMs and be here with all my buddies and hang out with the country music community,” he says. “I think coming back as part of a collective unit with the country music industry obviously makes it a little easier.”
“You Make It Easy” appears on Aldean’s eighth studio album, Rearview Town, which bows Friday. Aldean doesn’t have a release-day ritual, but he admits he’s “curious about what everybody else is thinking when they listen to it, so I’m checking on social media and getting some feedback and seeing what people’s favorite songs are.”
For the first two weeks of release, Rearview Town will only be available only on the premium tier of all subscription services. The move signifies a major shift for streaming giants like Spotify and YouTube, who have previously not allowed artists to dictate which tiers and markets in which they make their music available.
Aldean has challenged free streaming before, withholding his last album, 2016’s They Don’t Know, from all streaming outlets for its first month of release. In November 2014, Aldean withdrew his entire catalog from Spotify for year, commenting that the business model did not fairly compensate artists.
While well aware of the two-week window, Aldean is focused on the creative side of Rearview Town and making his fans happy, rather than the business angle. He says, “I just want it out there for people to listen to.”
This story first appeared on Billboard.com.