From a small town to the lights of Sin City, Jake Owen is going to experience it all this weekend. Over a 48-hour period, he will have played in the tiny Wyoming town of Pinedale (population 2,030) and then head to Las Vegas — for his first time since the October 1 fatal shootings during the Route 91 Harvest Festival. He says both towns have their wonder about them, but playing the Wyoming date is something that intrigued him.
“It’s a cool thing,” Owen said of his Thursday night performance — a celebration of the fact that Polaris off-road vehicles honored Pinedale, Wyoming, with the title of “RANGER Country™ USA” and hosted a celebration for residents of Sublette County. It’s not often that such a small town gets to play host to a country superstar, and Owen said he couldn’t wait to get there.
“Flying in here, I realized how you realize that there’s not really a lot going on out here. But I love that kind of thing. Growing up in Florida, this sort of landscape is great to see. Then, there’s the whole aspect of the town winning it through Polaris, and us coming out and playing is a lot of fun. I love coming to small towns like this and playing for people. I know this is something that they don’t get all the time — and I know it’s not the kind of place that I would play all the time. Combine those two parts together, and it’s a cool thing.”
Owen says the Polaris products are in his wheelhouse. “I just like anything outdoors. The whole Polaris lifestyle is something that I genuinely live with my friends. Back in Nashville, I have a farm, and on the weekends, all my buddies and their families all load up our Polarises and drive around. We’ll go to lunch and hang out by the river. So the whole Polaris atmosphere, and being able to come out here to Wyoming and hang with other people who are in that world, is a lot of fun.”
Polaris was equally happy with the event, as Josh Hermes, marketing manager of Polaris ORV, stressed that he was impressed with everything Pinedale brought to the table. “We had five towns that were nominated. We looked at a number of factors, such as Ranger sales in the area, how the products were used — either for recreation or agriculture. We looked at the culture of the town and what their values were, what the industry was there. We really tried to pick the towns that have had the greatest support of the Ranger brand during the past 20 years and that really embodied the brand values.”
Immediately following his performance for the town, Owen and his band are headed to Las Vegas for Sunday’s 52nd annual Academy of Country Music Awards. It will be his first time there since the ill-fated Route 91 festival in the fall. He anticipates it will be emotional, but is looking forward to the trip.
“It’ll be a lot different this time, I’m sure,” he said. “Every other time I’ve gone to Vegas, there has been this excitement about it — and all the glitz and the glamour of it all. The last experience put a little bit of a bruise on what my feelings are for that place. But at the same time, I’ve kind of put that in the back of my mind and my heart. I’ve accepted it for what it was and am trying to move forward and just chalk that up as an experience and learn from it. I think it’s taught me to be appreciative of life. I’m still out here doing what I love to do — because of those people who sacrificed their life that night — they were there because they loved music,” he said, adding that he and his fellow artists can’t allow the actions of one person to take away from the joy of playing music and performing for fans. “That guy isn’t going to stop any one of us from playing shows anymore. We’re going to continue to come out — whether it’s Pinedale or anywhere else in this country — and keep everyone singing at the top of their lungs with some guy that’s letting them sing along with him.”
Owen tried out several new songs during Thursday’s show, including his current single “I Was Jack (And You Were Diane),” which is currently sitting at its peak of No. 20 on the Hot Country Songs chart. He says the song is a tribute to one of his favorite songs. “That is sort of my spin-off or tribute to John Cougar Mellencamp and the ‘Jack & Diane’ tune. It’s really been pleasant to see people taking to the song. It’s flying up the charts faster than any other that I’ve had.” He also performed a spectacular new ballad that has just been released as well. “’Made for You’ is a ballad that, when I heard it, I instantly wish that I had written it, and I couldn’t wait to record it.”
What makes the new music even more invigorating for Owen is that it comes as a result of his new partnership with Big Loud Records, after more than a decade with RCA. “It’s a fresh start. It’s a fresh new song. It is a little bit of a risk — doing that song for the first single. But my career has always been about trying to put out music that matches my lifestyle and personality. And I’ve always taken risks. I like that it’s paying off, and I’m happy just to be a guy who sings songs on the road and come to places like this to make people happy.”
And he definitely left the citizens of Pinedale, Wyoming, with a smile on Thursday. Polaris’ Hermes feels confident they won’t forget the night Jake Owen came to town. “People wanted to talk about the excitement of the concert, and how it brought the town together. There were comments about Ranger and what it means to them in their lives and how they use it. They all just wanted to share in their area. They take a lot of pride in living there and what they do. Overall, people seemed to be excited about the whole experience.”