"Just because you can't be together doesn't mean you can't still be great parents," he tells PEOPLE

By Danielle Anderson
July 12, 2017 03:45 PM

Jake Owen has a lot of love for all of the cities he plays, but there’s one that he always gets especially excited about: Chicago.

“It’s my favorite place to play in the country,” says Owen, who is headlining the Windy City Smokeout on Friday. “From day one they just embraced me. When a big city like Chicago wraps their arms around you, it really helps you build a following. It feels like going home when I go back there.”

He’s also not afraid to play tourist while he’s there. “I’ve done everything from take the river tour, to shopping, to the museum,” Owen, 35, says. “There’s so much culture there.”

There’s one Chicago tradition though that he doesn’t always get to take advantage of. “I’ve been on a pretty good health kick for quite some time, but maybe I’ll have a nice big slice of deep dish pizza — if it’s a cheat day.”

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The singer, who calls this a “rebuilding year” in his career and is spending the summer playing festivals and fairs — “We’re putting the building blocks together for a big year next year,” he says — is also looking forward to having some down time with his 4-year-old daughter Pearl.

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“As much as I love my job and playing music, the most satisfying, fulfilling moments in my life is when I can break away from the day-to-day grind and hustle that we do out there and just get back one-on-one with my little girl,” he says. “She really adds substance to my life.”

Owen also appreciates the sincerity of a 4-year-old and how spending time with Pearl pulls him back to a simpler life with less distractions.

“People spend so much time on their phones and on social media and things like that,” he says. “What I love the most about my time with my little girl is just — I feel like it’s the only true time where when I ask her a question, she genuinely is listening and giving me her 100 percent honest opinion. She hasn’t even learned how to lie. She hasn’t learned how to preface her stories because of how she thinks people will take them or not. It’s that pure, genuine conversation, and I love that. I think that’s what kids add to the world, is that they remind you that life is beautiful and the little things matter.”

Dale Sorensen

Though navigating parenthood since he split from ex-wife Lacey Buchanan in 2015 isn’t easy, he says the family has found a way to make it work.

“It’s hard being a single parent,” says Owen. “But the great part about it is her mom and I still get along really well. So when she has dad time, it’s cool things that she does with dad, and then when she’s with her mom she does things that she doesn’t do with me. It’s a very well-rounded situation for her. I think she’s really handled it well. I know there’s a lot of folks out there in the country that deal with that separation with a child, but I think it all boils down to the kind of parents you are. Just because you can’t be together doesn’t mean you can’t still be great parents.”

Windy City Smokeout, featuring Owen, Kip Moore, Lee Brice, Jana Kramer and more, takes over Chicago July 14-16.