The biggest story in country music in 2017 was also one of the greatest tragedies in U.S. history. On October 1, Jason Aldean’s closing set at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas was interrupted by gunfire, in the country’s deadliest mass shooting to date.
Stars and fans alike ran for their lives and fled to safety, as a gunman fired at the crowd from his room at the Mandalay Bay hotel, and later took his own life. The unfathomable violence left 58 dead and more than 500 wounded in the town where, just months before, Jason had won his second Academy of Country Music’s Entertainer of the Year trophy.
As America struggled to make sense of the carnage, Nashville came together to show its support with a vigil. Amy Grant led a prayer before her husband Vince Gill sang “Go Rest High on That Mountain.” Keith Urban shared how he explained the tragedy to his daughters, and delivered a heartfelt take on “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
With most of his stage set still a part of a crime scene in Las Vegas, Jason Aldean canceled that weekend’s stops on his They Don’t Know Tour out of respect for the victims. Instead, he made a surprise appearance on Saturday Night Live, opening the show with a statement, before seguing into “I Won’t Back Down,” made famous by Tom Petty — who’d unexpectedly passed away just a day after the violence.
Aldean visited survivors in the hospital in Las Vegas, and by the next Thursday, he was ready to resume his tour at the BOK Center in Tulsa. The hitmaker was both heartbroken and defiant, saying he thinks of the 58 victims daily, while vowing not to give in to those who would have us live in fear. After addressing the tragedy, Jason continued with his set, vowing to give the crowd in Tulsa the show his fans in Vegas never got the chance to see.
Maren Morris also chimed in, releasing the song “Dear Hate,” which she’d originally recorded after the 2015 South Carolina church shooting. Vince Gill added his vocals to the moving song, which reached #1 on iTunes. She donated all proceeds to the Music City Cares Fund to help victims.
Though answers as to why gunman Stephen Paddock opened fire on the crowd in Las Vegas have proven elusive, country music’s resolve to press on, and not shy away from similar outdoor performances, has never wavered.
In one of the most moving moments at November’s 51st Annual CMA Awards, Carrie Underwood memorialized the victims of the Las Vegas tragedy with an emotional rendition of the gospel classic, “Softly and Tenderly.”
Next April, practically the entirety of Nashville’s music community will once again descend on Las Vegas for the Academy of Country Music Awards, as is the tradition every year.
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