08/14/2008 at 09:00 AM EDT
How does a country superstar celebrate hitting the 50 million mark in album sales? For Alan Jackson, it was with grits and bologna sandwiches.
Jackson's wife, bestselling author Denise, his three daughters and about 400 friends, including Trace Adkins, gathered in Nashville to honor the 49-year-old singer Wednesday night. They were treated to upscale twists on down-home grub as a nod to the man who has a song called "I Still Like Bologna" on his latest album, Good Time.
"This is really rarefied air," Sony BMG Nashville head Joe Galante told the crowd of Jackson's 50 million achievement.
Jackson – whose first album, Here in the Real World, came out in 1990 – tells PEOPLE that his ambitions weren't so grand in the early days.
"Back then I was just glad to have a record deal," says Jackson. "I figured if you could last five years you were lucky, so that was the only goal I could see. This would have been unbelievable."
Adds Denise: "We never even dreamed this big."
Jackson is fast approaching another milestone: taking his eldest daughter, Mattie, 18, to college. Mattie, who was valedictorian of her high school class, will be a freshman at Wake Forest in North Carolina this fall.
"My wife is a little teary eyed and I might be when the time comes but I just feel like you raise them and prepare them for that and that's what you gear them up to do," the proud father says philosophically. "That's part of life."
But, Denise admits, "I'm already feeling the loss!"