By Mandi Bierly
Updated March 04, 2013 at 12:00 PM EST
Rick Diamond/Getty Images

On Saturday night, country singer Jake Owen made his Madison Square Garden debut as an opener for Jason Aldean’s sold-out show in New York City. “The way I start my show, I come up in an elevator and appear on the top of our set,” he tells EW. “The minute my eyes are over the edge where I could see, I went, ‘Whoa, this is Madison Square Garden.’ You just realize it’ll be really neat to be able to tell my daughter that I just had, and my grandkids, that I was a piece of that building’s history along with names that I admire greatly like Springsteen, Billy Joel, Elton John, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra. For a guy like me that started playing guitar on a bar stool at a little crappy bar in Tallahassee, Florida full of drunk college kids, it’s a pretty big leap.”

Today, Owen stopped by EW to tell us what he learned about playing the Garden:

1. Know where to shop for stage apparel. He paid $10 for that I ♥ NY T-shirt he wore. “We were on the sidewalk, and I saw it, and I’m like, ‘I wanna wear one of those tonight,’ so I just went over to grab one and the guy’s like, ’10 bucks,’ and I just handed him the money and walked off. I wasn’t thinking. Later that night, we were going back to the hotel, and I saw all these stores on Broadway that are like ‘Three shirts for $10.’ I’m like, ‘I got ripped off, man. Here I was wearing it to represent New York, and New York rips me off,'” he says, laughing.

2. The night will have to largely live in your memory. “Playing in a union city is a bit different. For instance, I love taking photos — that’s why I look like a tourist with [a new black and white camera] around my neck today. But you can’t just walk around in the Garden taking photos because somebody somewhere is telling you, ‘You can’t take photos,'” he says. “And every night, I get a DVD of the show. Do you know how excited I was to be able to get a DVD of the show from Madison Square Garden? Nope, not Madison Square Garden. They wouldn’t allow us to record. But that’s cool. That’s part of the mystique of it, I guess.” (He used to search online for clips of shows. “Not to be narcissistic, but I truly believe in order to make yourself better, you should see what you did before and what was good about that and what wasn’t — same way a football team plays a game and then they go back and watch film,” he says. He hasn’t looked for fan-shot videos of the Garden show yet. Here’s “Barefoot Blue Jean Night,” Jake. It worked.)

3. You may need to change your pre-show ritual. “My pre-show ritual is usually hanging out on my bus with my buddies and having a beer or two,” he says. “But because it’s in the middle of a city, you can’t have your buses there. So I kinda just hung out in the dressing room for a few hours. It was me, all of the band, their families, and friends of the family. It was chaos from the beginning, but it was a great experience.”

4. Be careful trying out new material. It’s not that the crowd didn’t like “Ghost Town,” a song he’s recorded for his next album. It’s that they might have liked it too much for him to fight the execs who’d like it to eventually be the album’s first single. “I love that song — that’s why I put it in the set obviously — but at this point in my career, I want to also dictate when I want a song to come out and what that song is gonna be. It’s funny because [my tour manager Greg] Fowler has been running his mouth saying, ‘That’s the one.’ Everyone’s like, ‘That’s the first single off your new record, it’s gotta be.’ But to me, you want to open up a record and have fun. That’s a more melancholy, dark ‘I don’t want to see this person again but they’re still hanging around,’ kind of song,” he says. “But that’s the problem with playing new music sometimes before the record comes out: You have a bunch of yayhoots with opinions,” he concludes, laughing again and looking at Fowler.

5. You’ll be happy you’re down with your Master Cleanse. Wanting to give his body a break from the beer and burgers, he recently did a Master Cleanse. “I was like, ‘Beyoncé did it. Oprah says it’s cool.’ I researched it for a while. Basically, you drink lemon juice, water, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup for 14 days. I went for 10 days — and they say 10 is plenty, 14 is bragadocious,” he says. “It was hard: I didn’t eat for 10 days, and I started a brand new tour. And the first couple days, I was out there running around on stage as I’m used to doing, and I realized, I haven’t eaten in like six days. I hope I have the energy to do this. Thank goodness by the time we played Madison Square Garden, I’d already been back to eating whole food.”

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