Aldean, who was onstage at the Oct. 1, 2017 concert when the shooting began, talked in-depth about the event during a Country Radio Seminar interview billed as “Overcoming Obstacles,” moderated by incoming CRS executive director RJ Curtis and Beverlee Brannigan of SummitMedia on Friday (Feb. 15).
The country singer openly discussed his grief, and processing it, in the wake of the worst mass shooting in American history.
Aldean was performing his 2012 hit “When She Says Baby” when he thought a guitar amp had blown. He soon saw people running in the crowd and explained his initial thoughts when he realized the sound he heard was gunshots.
“I was confused,” he admitted to the audience of radio professionals. “I didn’t know what was going on. My wife was eight months pregnant. That was scary. I didn’t know where she was at. You’re scared, you’re nervous. It was just really chaotic. One of the words I summed it up with was chaos.”
The singer confessed that he and his band removed the song from their set for the remainder of the tour. It was simply too hard to play the track as it brought back memories of the festival and the 58 lives lost and more than 500 injured.
Aldean says he had his band and crew to lean on following the shooting and that the tragedy brought them closer together. While he has since undergone therapy, he admits it may not have been enough.
“I probably should have gone to a few more therapy sessions than I did,” he said. “Honestly, for me, being able to talk to my guys, talk to people that I was close to, being able to talk about it to somebody who understood how I was feeling, that helped me tremendously. The other part of that was getting back on stage [and] mentally getting through some shows.”
Six days following the tragedy, Aldean made an appearance on Saturday Night Live where he shared a heartfelt message with viewers and performed Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” He credits the experience as “one of the biggest things we could have done.” Afterward, he flew to Las Vegas to visit with festival victims and their families.
“The hardest thing I’ve ever done was go to Vegas and visit with a lot of the victims,” he said. “I was really glad we went there, but it was tough to sit there and see people who were at our show a few days before. To me, it was gut-wrenching. I felt a responsibility to go there and have some face-to-face time with them and laugh and cry — whatever they wanted to do.”
The hospital visits were difficult as he saw many of his fans laying in hospital beds, some paralyzed, while he had not been physically injured. “I almost feel guilty that I got out of there without a scratch. It’s really hard to wrap your head around,” he said gravely.
One of the toughest conversations he had following the massacre was with his two older daughters. “My oldest daughter was pretty shaken up, thinking I was the target of what was going on. She was pretty freaked out,” he recalled. “I was just honest with them.”
Nearly a year and a half following Route 91 Harvest, Aldean says he has added “When She Says Baby” back into his setlist. Now the song means something entirely different to him as he realizes how fortunate he is to still be up on stage and playing music for fans.
“[Route 91 Harvest] is definitely something that is always on my mind. It will forever be on my mind,” he concluded.