It's 8 p.m. at Jason Aldean's house, and the singer is in the midst of his favorite nightly performance: horseplay with his daughters Keeley, 9, and Kendyl, 5. "He gets in the bed, and they wrestle and jump all over him and get in tickle matches," says his wife, Jessica. When things quiet down, the family snuggles up and says a prayer together before the girls turn in. "All four of us are there, and it's one of my favorite parts of the day," Aldean says. "I love the simple stuff that I didn't always get to do before all this happened."
"All this" is the success that in the past two years has catapulted the 35-year-old singer into country's top tier, staking his claim as a stadium headliner and even getting him chased down the street by paparazzi after a recent appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman. "We were cutting off buses trying to shake them," he says. "It was like, 'Are you kidding? When did this start?' "
The answer, of course, is after Aldean's 2010 album My Kinda Party
sold more than 2.7 million copies and spawned hit after hit, including the crossover smash "Don't You Wanna Stay" (with Kelly Clarkson
) and the triple-platinum "Dirt Road Anthem." After years playing 200-plus dates a year at small venues or as an opening act and coming home to bare trophy shelves, Aldean (whose fifth album, Night Train, is out Oct. 16) suddenly found himself racking up awards (he's earned two ACMs and two CMAs since 2011) along with critical praise. The change in fortune has also meant fewer nights on the road and more time at home with his girls at their sprawling ranch home outside Nashville.
Set amid rolling hills on 18 acres, Aldean's "little getaway" is a reminder of the landscape where the Macon, Ga., native grew up. "There's a lot of farmland, and it's a peaceful place to escape the craziness of the road," he says. "When my wife and I first came out and looked over the hills, we thought, 'This is the spot.' " But at 5,000 square feet, the singer's four-bedroom house isn't the lavish showplace you might expect. Aldean and his wife built the home in 2009 when his star was beginning to rise with a string of consecutive No. 1's (including "Big Green Tractor"). "I was nervous as hell," says Aldean, who began his career as a teen singing in VFW halls. "I'd just started making a little money, so I was like, 'Man, what if my career goes down the drain tomorrow and we just built this house?' "
With three platinum albums, he can afford to relax—and relocate to a flashier spread. But he and Jess, 32, who began dating in high school, insist they aren't going anywhere. "I grew up most of my life in an 800-sq.-ft. apartment," he says. "The first house we bought was 1,500 square feet, and I thought I was in a mansion. This is all I need." Of course, he's also splurged on a Florida beach house and 1,300 acres of farmland in the backwoods of Tennessee. "I'd rather have things like that than be able to go, 'Look how big my house is!' " he says.
Instead he indulges in outdoor hobbies on his own private countryside. "I've always wanted some place I could hunt and fish and ride four-wheelers," he says. "Growing up, I spent every minute I could on my cousin's farm, fishing and learning to ride horses."
It's a lifestyle he wants to pass on to his girls, who already own pink bow-and-arrow sets and BB guns. "Kendyl can't hardly pull the bow back, but we're working on it. I don't want them to grow up only knowing riding around in a limo and flying in a private jet. It's cool, but it's a luxury. I want them to appreciate tying a hook on your line."
When they're not learning off the land, the family can be found practicing softball (both girls play on teams coached by Aldean), playing by the backyard pool or, if Kendyl has her way, cruising the toy aisles of Target. "She loves going there for some reason!" he says. "When I'm home, it doesn't matter whether we're going to Home Depot or the post office, we're almost always together." If it's a school day, Aldean drops off the girls (at public school-"the whole point in us moving out here is so we can be normal," Jess explains), and he and Jess have a daytime date, grabbing a burger or sandwich while they catch up. Dinners are eaten together (faves are roasts with potatoes and Jess's mac and cheese) in the kitchen.
It's everyday stuff, but after years of missing out on the routine moments of family life, the singer is happy to embrace the everyday. "I feel blessed by success, but I don't want to lose focus of what's important," he says. "I know it's not going to last forever, so I just want to enjoy being here."