Ahead of his appearance on the CMA Fest special this week, Jason Aldean is looking back on his first performance at the festival, which proves what a difference a year makes. 

Jason Aldean recalls performing in the parking lot of Nissan Stadium in 2005, but even then, he had his eyes set on those stadium lights, hoping one day he’d reach them. 

“My first CMA performance ever was in the parking lot. I didn’t play the stadium, I played the parking lot, and I think there was about 15 people watching the show. Out of those 15, maybe two of them knew who I was,” Jason says. “I was outside and I kept looking at the stadium … I knew that’s where I needed to get to if I wanted to really make a splash.” 

That dream soon became reality, as Jason was one of the headlining acts at the massive venue at the 2006 festival, following the success of hits like “Why” and “Amarillo Sky.” The superstar notes that getting to headline the stadium during the annual festival is a career milestone. 

“The following year, I was playing the stadium and there’s nothing like it. That was the first time I think I’d ever played a stadium, so to walk out and see that many people, and we were starting to take off about that time too and people were knowing our songs,” he recalls. “It was a big difference from that year to the year we were playing in the parking lot, so it was definitely a game-changer.” 

Jason will perform a pair of hits spanning his decadeslong career — “She’s Country” and “Trouble With a Heartbreak” — when CMA Fest airs on ABC on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET. 

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