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He sat in the crowd on Nov. 8 at the CMA Awards, hearing the announcer say his name amongst a list of country music’s finest. Then there was a pause as the envelope was ripped open, and then it happened.

Jon Pardi was the CMA’s “New Artist of the Year!”

“Thanks to all my friends and family back home who watched me play backyards and little hometown dive bars and fairs back in high school,” he said in his acceptance speech, his voice cracking as his black cowboy hat hid his eyes as he attempted to get through it before humbly adding, “Thank you.”

Were there tears falling underneath that hat?

He claims there weren’t.

We beg to differ.

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“Nah, I didn’t cry,” Jon told Rare Country during a recent interview inside a tiny backstage room at Joe’s Bar in Chicago. “The CMAs definitely hit you though. It’s like all your peers are there and you are looking out at them, along with people that have been with me from the very first day. It’s just really cool. The acknowledgement is awesome. I will take whatever I can get. It’s been an amazing year.”

Actually, it’s been an amazing few years for the towering Californian, who found himself already at the top of the charts early in his still-young career with songs like “Heartache on the Dance Floor,” “Dirt on My Boots” and “Head Over Boots.” But yes, this year felt different. This year, Jon’s music hit a nerve among fans who truly needed it.

“There is always a need for music,” Jon said, his feet shifting his weight between them. “Regardless of what happens in the world, the truth is … shit. Bad things happen every year, and this year has been a horrible year in so many ways. We are always here … to deal with it, to mend and move on. That’s what country music has always been.”

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Preparing to wrap up the “CMT On Tour Presents Jon Pardi’s Lucky Tonight Tour” alongside Runaway June and Midland, with final shows Dec. 8 and 9, Jon said he will never forget how his fans came out to support him throughout 2017.

“It always hits ya when you look and see that this whole tour was sold out,” Jon said. “The fans always show up. We aren’t a social media band and we don’t have super high social numbers, but that doesn’t matter with us. The fans show up and they buy tickets. They are real people and they aren’t robots.”

Those fans are now quickly in the middle of falling in love with Jon’s new single “She Ain’t In it” — a song he said took a little bit of courage to put out.

“If we were worried about [No. 1 singles], then we wouldn’t have put out ‘She Ain’t In It’ as a single,” Jon told Rare Country. “I’m not saying it’s not going to make it to No. 1, but it’s definitely different. It’s not like you are going to listen to it and say, ‘This is going to fit right in on country radio.’ It stands out. That’s why we chose it. It’s something you want to hear on the radio, something that recognizes the past and something that just feels different. It’s a heartfelt, moving on kind of song with great lyrics and great songwriters. It’s a whole different side of me, and we ain’t afraid of it.”

If you’re a fan of Jon Pardi, you can help him end the year with another award on his mantel. He is nominated for New Artist of the Year in the Rare Country Awards, and it’s up to you to decide the winner. Vote now through Dec. 13 at RareCountryAwards.com. Winners will be revealed during a livestreamed concert event on Dec. 14 in Nashville.

A country hit-maker talks about the year that made his dreams come true Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images
Tricia Despres is the contributing editor for Rare Country, based out of Chicago, Illinois. Join the conversation on Twitter at @RareCountry. We would love to see y’all there.
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