Made in Vero Beach

Jake Owen always comes back—and gives back—to his hometown

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Jake Owen. Photo by Sam Wolfe
Jake Owen. Photo by Sam Wolfe

When it comes to hometown celebrities, you don’t get to pick and choose. If you did, you might look for someone who loves this town and epitomizes the things that make it special. Like 232 days of sunshine a year, or the fact that ocean waves roll in from the east while cattle lean against the sunset. You would want someone with the courage to compete with the big boys and a big heart for helping others. Finally, if you were fortunate enough to find just that person, you might want him to have a big voice, so he could sing the praises of the town you love.

Lucky for Vero Beach, country music singer Jake Owen, whose seventh studio album, Loose Cannon, was released in 2023, fits the bill like a favorite pair of blue jeans. With his confidence to dream big and his desire to give back, Owen gives voice to some of the things we love best about 27.63 north by 80.39 west. He throws in a healthy dose of gratitude and a little nostalgia for the people and place that made him who he is.

Jake Owen. Photo by Good Company Entertainment
Jake Owen. Photo by Good Company Entertainment

Let’s start with the big voice and the sunshine. Owen, who taught himself to play guitar when an injury sidelined his plan to become a professional golfer, rolled into Nashville in 2003 with big dreams in his gas tank and a few months rent in his pocket. By 2006 those dreams were well on their way to coming true when he released his first album, Startin’ with Me. Since then, his sun-drenched music has found good company atop Billboard’s Hot 100, with 10 No. 1 singles topping the Hot Country chart.

Long before last summer’s Hollywood blockbuster turned “beach” into a verb (and a job for Barbie’s sidekick, Ken), Jake Owen was “just beachin.’” In other words, he was “strollin,’ chillin,’ breezin,’ sippin,’” and “singin’” with “sunshine, blue eyes, tan lines,” and “rolling white sand.” His music celebrates summertime and the outdoor beach town life he reveled in as a child. He has filmed several music videos here, including one for “American Country Love Song” at Riverside Café and Vero Beach High School and, more recently, “On the Boat Again” on the waters of Fort Pierce.

Owen has recorded multiple music videos in the area, including “On the Boat Again”
Owen has recorded multiple music videos in the area, including “On the Boat Again.”

Owen’s love for his hometown doesn’t stop at the high tide line. “I was into everything as a kid,” he says. “This town, there’s just a million different things you can do.” He rattles off a few, including fishing, playing sports, surfing, hunting, and riding four-wheelers west of town. He attended Beachland Elementary and Gifford Middle before graduating from Vero Beach High School. “I’ve been really fortunate to grow up all over this town, not just in part of it,” he says. “When I was 5 years old, we lived on the barrier island, on Painted Bunting [Lane]. And by the time I graduated high school I was on 16th Street off 43rd Avenue. “So,” he concludes, “I was really immersed in a lot of the different cultures that make Vero Vero.”

He was disappointed when he had to let go of his first dream, but, he says, “I still had the fire in me to be successful in something that I loved.” He picked up a guitar, found success playing local gigs, and knew exactly what he needed to do next. In a conversation with Nashville DJ and friend Bobby Bones, Owen reflects on the confidence behind his decision to drop out of college and head to Nashville. “I don’t know who that guy was,” he says. “That guy didn’t ask himself any questions.”

He might not know who that guy was, but he knows exactly where he came from. Owen credits growing up in Vero Beach with twin brother Jarrod and a core group of childhood friends for sparking his competitive drive. “You’re constantly pushing each other to be better at whatever it is you’re doing. We were all really pushing each other as kids to be the best we could be.” It didn’t hurt that tennis phenom Mardy Fish, who launched his successful career before finishing high school, was (and still is) one of those close friends. “If Mardy did it,” he says, “what can I do?”

In true Vero Beach fashion, it didn’t take long before Owen’s success led him to want to give back. “I was really blessed, and I think that’s what gave me morals and understanding and values,” he says. He created the Jake Owen Foundation in 2010, initially inspired by the Country Cares program to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Hospital. Today, the foundation’s mission is “helping people in the places they call home.” It’s raised more than $3 million to do just that.

The annual Flamingo Golf Classic was held at Quail Valley Golf Club
The annual Flamingo Golf Classic was held at Quail Valley Golf Club.

This past December, Owen’s annual fundraising festival in Vero Beach showcased the breadth of his connection to his hometown. It included a concert at Corporate Air, a comedy show at Riverside Theatre, a fun run at American Icon Brewery, a “songwriter splash” at the Kimpton Vero Beach Hotel & Spa, a golf tournament at Quail Valley, and a fishing tournament at Riverside Café. “I’m good at bringing people together,” Owen says. “That’s what I do for a living. So if I can do that every night and make people happy, why can’t I bring all kinds of different people together and do that for good?”

The list of local nonprofits that have benefited is long. As Owen says, “We’ve helped everyone from Autism Speaks to Habitat for Humanity to Boys & Girls Club.” Hibiscus Children’s Center, Youth Guidance Mentoring Academy, and Children’s Home Society of Florida are just a few of the other local organizations that belong on the list. “When I had the opportunity to have a voice,” Owen says, “I thought, ‘Let’s do some good with that.’”

The Flamingo Jam was held in the Corporate Air hangar at Vero Beach Regional Airport and featured performances by Darius Rucker
The Flamingo Jam was held in the Corporate Air hangar at Vero Beach Regional Airport and featured performances by Darius Rucker.

If you’re a beach town that takes “town” as seriously as “beach,” you might also hope for a hometown celebrity who can bring a little gravitas to the game, someone who can shake the sand off his feet and get serious when the moment calls for it. What Owen most likes to do when he comes home is “just drive down the streets I grew up on.” He reflects, “It makes me remember those moments when it felt like life wasn’t so important. The biggest joy I get out of coming home is that it allows me to slow down and see the people that fulfill my heart.”

The Flamingo Jam was held in the Corporate Air hangar at Vero Beach Regional Airport and featured performances by Jake Owen
The Flamingo Jam was held in the Corporate Air hangar at Vero Beach Regional Airport and featured performances by Jake Owen.

The singer who brought us “Barefoot Blue Jean Night,” the title track of his third album, was “never gonna grow up, never gonna slow down.” Jake Owen is just a tiny bit north of 40 these days. His next goal? “I definitely would like to be a really great dad” he says. “I think I’m a good dad, but I’d like to be a great one.”

As hometown celebrities go, Jake Owen will do just fine.

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