Aaron Tippin is different than most country music stars. He spent much of past week relaxing in a northern California campground not far from the Pacific Ocean with his band and tour members. At night, they’d grill food and spend time hanging out by a campfi re.
“That’s exactly what I like,” he said.
The 57-year-old, who is in his 25th year as an entertainer, will be in Dickinson to perform Thursday night in what is being billed as a mostly “unplugged” session at the Alive @ 5 downtown street fair.
One of the biggest country music stars of the 1990s, Tippin has been performing off-and-on with the Roots and Boots Tour alongside Joe Diffi e and Sammy Kershaw, two of his ’90s country contemporaries. He was also recently involved in some large-venue concerts alongside Keith Urban and Hunter Hayes.
However, the chart-topping singer-songwriter said he has always enjoyed performing in front of smalltown crowds. In fact, he even makes his home in a middle Tennessee hamlet of less than 200 people on the far outskirts of Nashville.
“There’s nothing like being able to sit and stare right into their eyes with a guitar and just play a song,” he said Wednesday during a phone interview.
Even after 25 years in the music business, Tippin — who has been married for 20 years to his wife, Thea, and has two teenage sons — said the fans and the music keep him traversing the country.
After contemplating retirement from touring at age 55, he had a change of heart.
“You think about the fl ight that took off when I was taking off, a lot of those guys just aren’t here anymore,” he said, adding that the fans have kept him in the business.
“The folks who have been coming to see me for 25 years keep coming back to see me.”
But, a lot has changed since Tippin fi rst entered the music industry. When he started, cassette tapes and CDs were the medium of choice for artists.
His latest single, “God’s Not Through With Me Yet,” is his fi rst released online before any other format.
“There’s the fi rst time I’ve ever been able to say that,” he said, followed by a hearty laugh.
Asked about where he stands in today’s country music world — where the biggest names are infusing their music with pop and hip-hop fl avor — Tippin said he maintains a pride in putting pen to paper and words to notes to craft a song, something he believes may be going by the wayside in today’s country music scene.
“I think it’s always really personal, where I can tell a story in song,” he said. “I have seen a lot of change in this business. And it’s still about a song to me. Whatever that song requires musically, that’s where I try to put it. … I never tried to deliberately force a song into a melody so it could be cool or hip, I have to let it be what it is. In order for them to be a hit, they have to have a life of their own. When you’re putting all that together and writing the lyrics, the lyrics come fi rst.”
Tippin can back up his beliefs with hardware, too. He has one platinum and fi ve gold albums, and topped the country music charts in the ’90s with “There Ain’t Nothin’ Wrong with the Radio” and “That’s as Close as I’ll Get to Loving You,” and again in 2000 with “Kiss This.”
Post-9/11, he rocketed up the charts and peaked at No. 2 with the patriotic salute to America, “Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly” — a song that still gets airplay on many country radio stations today.
He’s also known for his top 10 hits, “I Wouldn’t Have It Any Other Way,” “You’ve Got To Stand for Something,” “My Blue Angel,” “Workin’ Man’s Ph.D.” and “For You, I Will.”
However, Tippin said “without a doubt” his favorite song he has written and sings is “He Believed,” which he released in 2007 as a tribute to his late father.
Eric Smallwood, Alive @ 5’s organizer, said he was thrilled to learn Tippin would be able to swing through Dickinson on short notice. The concert was only booked a month ago.
Coming off a big concert by rock band FireHouse, which drew about 3,000 fans to downtown Dickinson, Smallwood said he’s preparing for a larger turnout with Tippin, noting he believes it’ll likely be similar to last summer’s Gwen Sebastian concert.
“Aaron Tippin is probably more known throughout southwestern North Dakota than FireHouse was,” he said. “FireHouse is kind of generation specific. Aaron Tippin is multiple generations. I’m just expecting a great crowd of people out to enjoy great music.”