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Country Summer Festival

When: Friday-Sunday

Where: Sonoma County Fairgrounds, 1350 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa

Headliners: Jake Owen 8:15 p.m. Friday, The Band Perry 8:15 p.m. Saturday and Brantley Gilbert 6:15 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $69 one-day/$189 three-day

Information:www.countrysummer.com


Apparently the promoters of the Country Summer festival have a lot of money to burn — either that or one of them really has a hankering for Jake Owen.

Here’s the evidence. Owen, the Florida-born hunk of a country singer who recently cut off his long locks, to much media buzz, is out on tour this summer with singer Kenny Chesney. Thursday night he'll play a show in Evansville, Indiana. After the concert, he'll fly overnight in a leased cargo plane big enough to hold his 30-person crew and all his gear to the Bay Area, where he'll wake up Friday to take the stage in Santa Rosa.

“It’s honestly the first time I’ve ever done anything like this,” said Owen, talking on the phone from his tour bus outside Houston. “I tried renting a private jet, but it would only hold 17 passengers, so I found this cargo plane.”

Now in its second year, the three-day Country Summer festival at Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa is starting to fill the void left behind when country-music haven Konocti Harbor shut down in Lake County in 2009.

Festival publicist Debora Mitchell said in an email that Athens, Ga.-based festival executive producer Alan Jacoby “really wanted Jake to headline this year’s event, and it’s taking a lot to get Jake on the Country Summer stage. Travel expenses were ultimately negotiated into Jake’s performance fee.”

It’s a performance fee that’s been on the rise since Owen dropped out of Florida State University and fled for Nashville in 2005. He first turned heads with the hit single “Yee Haw” in 2006, leading to a string of No. 1 hits: “Barefoot Blue Jean Night,” “Alone With You,” “The One That Got Away” and “Beachin’.”

His latest album, “Days of Gold,” is a little more reflective of a 33-year-old father, who’s married with a new daughter. Before Owen hopped on that cargo plane, he took a tour break to chat about his first gig, the hair cut and writing his own material.

Q: Tell me about getting up the courage to play your first show at Potbelly’s (FSU’s college dive bar).

A: I was in a weird spot because I’d gone to school to play sports and I hurt my shoulder and couldn’t play as competitively as I thought I would. So I started playing guitar and I got to the point where I thought I wanted to do this in front of people. I saw a guy playing at Potbelly’s and I thought, “Shoot, I could that.” So I asked the owner if I could come up on stage and play, that I’d play for free or whatever, and he said, “Sure, you wanna play tonight?” I didn’t know if I was that prepared for that, but I did. I went in there and played and it was great. I just remember that feeling of just having fun and watching other people having fun while I was doing it.

Q: Did you ever think cutting your hair could mean so much to people?

A: No. I think that’s a little weird.

Q: What’s the funniest thing you heard in response to that?

A: The funniest thing to me was how much people cared. My brother said to me, “You don’t need a publicist, you just need a haircut.”

Q: Was there a moment when you went from writing most of your own material to recording other people’s songs? Did you have to think twice about that?

A: I just got to a point where I realized I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone. Maybe when I was a new artist I felt like, when you move to town (Nashville) and you’re surrounded by people who are so talented and such great songwriters and such great singers, one way to prove yourself is to say, “Well, I write all my own stuff.”

And I realized after the fact, no one really cares about that. All they care about is if you have great songs. My fans on the radio don’t care if I wrote the song. They just want a song that relates to their life and moves them in one way or another. And I also realized I was being really stupid when I’m surrounded by the best songwriters in the world and I’m not using their talent.

Bay Area freelancer John Beck writes about entertainment for The Press Democrat. You can reach him at 280-8014 or john@beckmediaproductions.com.