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When Rascal Flatts comes to Atlantic City this week, the band won’t be the only act to hit the beach. Nick Jonas and his abs, along with the gentlemen pop stars of Maroon 5, play that sandy A.C. spot Sunday. But Rascal Flatts – singing cousins Gary LeVox and Jay Demarcus, vocalist/guitarist Joe Don Rooney – will bring big-time country-crossover music to the Jersey Shore.

“We love playing Atlantic City, whether it’s the casinos or on the sand,” says Rooney. “It’s a good time anytime we’re in Jersey.”

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Oklahoma-born Rooney has been having a good time with the Columbus, Ohio, cousins ever since they decided to unite as a trio in 1999. A namesake hillbilly-pop album followed in 2000. “When I came to Nashville, like, 17 years ago, I just wanted to play, sing, and jam with friends,” says fingerpicking Joe Don Rooney about his move to Music City. He wanted to be not a session cat, but rather a part of something solid. “Luckily, I met Jay and Gary pretty quickly and started jamming together every Monday night until we realized what we had was special.”

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Rascal Flatts hooked up with ace songwriters and with producer Dan Huff. It soon became a platinum act. Initial fame focused on the musicians harmony-driven country crooning. Then came elements of the blues, hard rock, and Rooney’s plucking leads on 2006’s Me and My Gang. The album featured a hard-driving guitar sound and ridiculously contagious songs such as their version of Tom Cochrane’s “Life Is a Highway,” a hit for the band off the soundtrack for the Disney film Cars. “That’s when I think we really got serious,” says Rooney. “I’m real proud of that one.”

A.C. outlines plans for Maroon 5, Rascal Flatts beach concerts

RTicketCityooney is such a guitar wonk that he wrote for Guitar World for a spell. “Such a blast, talking to all the old Nashville players,” he says. “I’d love to do that some more.” He muses about certain guitar styles (“man, Jeff Beck never used a pick”) and is as interested in Metallica as in Chet Atkins, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Albert King. “I love ferocity when it comes to my inspirations,” he says, “guys who don’t hold back but are still sensitive. I love the simplicity and the dynamics of Eric Clapton and Beck, guitarists like that who play to the song and not just wait for the solo. Growing up as a kid, I had their VHS cassettes and just hit play, rewind, play, rewind, and studied the classics.”

Without sounding corny, that’s what Rascal Flatts did on its latest album, 2014’s Rewind, which pulls back a bit and heads back into the members’ country roots. “We had been producing ourselves and writing all of our own songs for that last album, but we always keep an open ear when it comes to other people’s songs,” says Rooney. “Then we got hold of the song ‘Rewind’ ” – written by Chris DeStefano, Ashley Gorley, and Eric Paslay – “and all of a sudden, we found what we had been missing: a vintage country sound with a twist. It just felt right. It’s cool, hot, and sexy – even the title, man. I’d like to think that that is who we are and what we do best.”


Rascal Flatts and Ashley Monroe play at 4 p.m. Thursday at the beach at Atlantic City, between the Playground (at Arkansas Avenue) and Central Pier (at St. James Place). Tickets: $20 general admission; $49.50 preferred. Maroon 5, with Nick Jonas and Matt MC Andrew, plays at 4 p.m. Sunday at the beach at Atlantic City, same location. Tickets: $39.50 general, $75 preferred. Information: 800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com.

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