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Jake Owen has many reasons to smile

Jake Owen, the Florida-raised country music star whose biggest hit, the platinum-selling “Bare Foot Blue Jean Night,” includes the refrain “Never gonna grow up! Never gonna slow down!,” is pulled over on the side of the road, surrounded by responsibility.

Somewhere between Nashville and his Vero Beach home, near Valdosta, Ga., he reckons, Owen has stopped his black Ford F-250 pickup at a truck stop to multitask: In one hand is a cell phone, through which he conducts an interview, in the other is a leash, with which he walks his English bulldog, Merle. Inside the truck, his wife, Lacey, is feeding their 5-week-old daughter, Pearl.

Owen has made this drive many times before –– “I’d grab a couple of Red Bulls and whiz on down,” he recalls, wistfully –– but on this trip he’s stopping every couple of hours so he and Lacey can tend to Pearl.

“Times have changed, but it’s awesome, man. [Pearl] has added a whole lot more substance to my life,” says Owen, 31.

The past 12 months have been good to Owen: In May he married model Lacey Buchanan, who starred in his sexy videos for “8 Second Ride” and “Bare Foot Blue Jean Night,” in a sunrise ceremony on the beach in Vero (bare feet, no jeans), and he saw the birth of Pearl on Thanksgiving Day.

On the professional front, after being named the American Country Awards 2012 Breakthrough Artist of the Year and ranked one of “The 30 Greatest Artists Right Now” in Entertainment Weekly’s music issue, Owen was tapped to headline the Orange Bowl halftime show and was  added to the Tortuga Music Festival bill on Fort Lauderdale beach in April.

And he has a wakeboard fall to thank for it all.

Owen was a Florida State student with aspirations to play professional golf when he wrecked his shoulder. He used his time away from the course to pick up the guitar –– he was a fan of the Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings brand of country that his dad played in the truck on the way to work his cutting horses in Ocala –– and soon Owen was playing for tips at the Tallahassee tavern Potbelly’s.

“People ask me all the time if I feel like I’ve made it, but every time I get to play is a big deal for me,” Owen says. “In Tallahassee sitting on a bar stool playing for my friends and free beer makes me feel like I made it. Now, of course, it’s pretty cool that there are a lot more people.”

At last year’s Orange Bowl, Owen performed outside Sun Life Stadium as one of the pre-game acts, with pop-rockers Train the halftime headliner. He’s excited to move into midgame spotlight: “But not only that, my alma mater is playing,” he says.

About that, you have to ask the diplomatic Owen three times before he’ll take a side between Florida State and Northern Illinois: “Sure, I’d like to see FSU win.”

Next up for Owen is a nationwide tour with country star Jason Aldean from February through May, with a pause for the Tortuga Music Festival, where he'll join a lineup that includes Kenny Chesney, the Avett Brothers, Gary Clark Jr. and the Eli Young Band April 13-14 on Fort Lauderdale beach.

Owen acknowledges that it will be tough to be away from his wife and daughter.

"But you've got to make hay while the sun shines, and it's shining pretty good on me right now," Owen says. "I'm pretty aware that nothing lasts forever."

Photo: Jake Lipsky

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