BANGOR, Maine — In the lull before Alan Jackson stepped onto the Bangor Waterfront stage, a whistle blew in the distance. The audience watched a freight train pass behind the stage, a fitting introduction for the Jackson’s “Freight Train” tour.
A country superstar for two decades, Alan Jackson has sold more than 50 million albums and had 34 No. 1 hits, and he’s still rolling like a “Freight Train,” which is the title of his 2010 album and tour.
On Saturday night he drew about 8,000 concert-goers to Bangor, according to concert series promoter Alex Gray.
“I’m a diehard fan from California and I flew 3,000 miles to meet him tonight,” said Josh Aleck, 38, of Palmdale, Calif. “I drove his manager crazy for 12 months.”
Aleck has been an Alan Jackson fan for 13 years and attends an average of 10 of his concerts a year. Maine is the farthest he has traveled for a concert, and it was the place where he first met Jackson in person.
“I’m just going to tell him that he’s in a class of his own,” said Aleck an hour before he would meet Jackson at 8 p.m. backstage. “His music is a big part of my life. When he walks out on stage, it’s the best part of the show.”
As the gray sky darkened, The Harters, a brother-brother-sister trio from Nashville, opened the concert. Concert-goers settled in their seats and zipped up their coats as the temperature dropped to 57 degrees.
With the opening act over, the stage was pitched into darkness. The rumbling of a train grew louder as Jackson’s band The Stayhorns took their places with guitars and violins in hand. Bright lights lit up the scene, and the crowd cheered as Jackson took center stage singing “Gone Country.”
Wearing shredded jeans, a tan cowboy hat and an embroi-dered, black button-up, he sang old hits such as “Summertime Blues” and songs from his 2010 album such as “Hard Hat and a Hammer.”
“The first time I saw those sky-blue eyes, I just about died,” said Bonnie Quint, 65, of Hodgdon, who was at the concert with her husband. “And when he takes that hat off with all those little curls, you just about want to run your fingers through his hair.”
“I’ve been listening to country all my life,” said Beverly Walton, 58, of Morrill who came with her sister Lillie Maddocks, 45, of Searsport. Both were celebrating their birthdays. “You know exactly what he’s saying when he sings. A lot of his songs come from growing up. He seems to be a down-to-earth family man.”
Maddocks, who comes from a family of nine, said she could relate to Jackson’s humble upbringing with four siblings in Georgia.
Jackson wrote or co-wrote eight of the 12 songs of “Freight Train” and has penned 26 of his 34 No. 1 singles, including Grammy-winning Best Country Song “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning,” a song about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He is a three-time Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year and the most nominated artist in CMA history.
Just a day before the Maine concert, he performed at the Festival Western de Saint-Tite in Quebec City, and on Sept. 11, he’ll be in Glens Falls, N.Y.
“I think it’s pretty awesome that they’re bringing people to Bangor, Maine,” said Vickie Easler of Dexter, who has seen Jackson in concert out of state five times.
“At the Tim McGraw concert, I sat beside two girls from Mass. and said to them, ‘It’s about time you came to our area and paid for our hotels.’”
The Hollywood Slots Waterfront Concert Series will continue with Jason Mraz and Robert Francis on Saturday, Sept. 11; Miranda Lambert on Saturday, Oct. 2; and Godsmack on Sunday, Oct. 10.
For information or to purchase tickets, visit www.waterfrontconcerts.com.