If the last time you listened to country star Jake Owen was circa July 2014 when “Good Timing” and “Tipsy” still reigned as your summertime anthems, you’re missing out.
His latest single “I Was Jack (You Were Diane)” combines strumming bass licks and Owen’s smooth baritone shellacked by samples from John Mellencamp‘s timeless “Jack & Diane.” But don’t let the slick production fool you, Owen is a country boy at heart. From the head-bopping “Beachin’” to getting caught up in a “Barefoot Blue Jean Night,” the small-town Florida native is all about spending time in the great outdoors. Which is why he recently teamed up with Polaris to celebrate the crowning of Pinedale, Wyoming, a sprawling utopia for outdoor recreation, as “Ranger Country USA,” as determined in a public vote. On Thursday, the singer played a free concert in the “very large playground” that is rural Pinedale, to toast the win.
“I’ve never been to Pinedale,” Owen, 36, tells PEOPLE. “I’ve been to a lot of places but never Pinedale, so I’m looking forward to getting out there and playing music.”
Owen is certainly no stranger to rural life, given that he lives in the one-stoplight town of Kingston Springs, Tennessee. “I love where I am in life right now. I’m finally back in a place where I’m in a small town with a pretty piece of property and really great down-to-earth friends that have kids. And we all have a really nice time hanging out with each other… that’s really what I try to build my life around,” he explains, reflecting on how happy he is enjoying life’s simple pleasures like hanging out on the river banks or having group cookouts.
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Of course, a big part of his happiness is his 5-year-old daughter, Pearl, who will start kindergarten next fall. One of his favorite recent memories? Daddy-daughter doughnut day.
“I flew down to go have some doughnuts with her,” he shares. “I went down and hung out with her and she was pretty excited to show me her teachers and all the stuff she’s learning. She’s learning Spanish and reading right now. It was a super big deal to me, but it’s so fulfilling to see her be so excited to show people her daddy. To her, I’m not the singer Jake Owen, I’m just dad,” he reflects, noting how awesome it was to mix in with all the other dads and be a regular guy.
Music-wise, Owen is also in a groove. He’s been keeping busy these past few months between working on a variety of “projects” with his new label, Big Loud Records.
“Just the passion they have for not just music, but everybody in the building is passionate for each other as far as what their jobs are and they all are working really hard,” he says of the record label, which also has Chris Lane, Morgan Wallen, and Jillian Jacqueline. “What I like about is that they don’t necessarily have one thing that they do. They’re open to any kind of creative artistry. They’ve really made me feel at home over there, I’m happy to be there.”
When pressed for what fans can expect next, Owen remains coy. “We have a lot of things up our sleeves that we want to do, to break the mold a little bit. We do have some really cool things that we’re working on,” he says, mentioning his excitement around “I Was Jack (You Were Diane)” and his other song “Something to Ride To” that was released on the same day.
This summer, Owen will be headlining his “Life’s Whatcha Make It” tour, weaving his way through baseball stadiums dotting the country from Jackson, Tennessee to Fresno, California. We’re guessing the happy dad and energized musician — to lift a line from Pearl’s favorite song — is more ready than ever to throw down the “good vibes, good times, and a damn good memory.”