Rising country singer Jordan Mitchell moved from Las Vegas to Nashville a few years ago to pursue a career in music, and this year’s Route 91 Harvest festival was her first opportunity to play for her hometown. The 26-year-old performed on the Next From Nashville secondary stage on Sunday (Oct. 1), just hours before a gunman opened fire on the crowd during Jason Aldean’s main stage set, killing 59 and injuring 527 more.
Mitchell was backstage when the gunshots began, going from a celebratory end-of-the-night hang to running for her life — and not even knowing why. She recounted her experience to Billboard, also discussing what it was like to go through something like that in the town in which she grew up. An edited transcript of her story is below.
It was end of the night, just like winding down — about to leave, honestly. [I was] with friends from Nashville having a drink backstage. We were right backstage at Jason Aldean’s show; there’s an artists’ lounge to the left of the stage between that and Mandalay Bay. My arm was propped up, finally leaning back on this couch after driving for a week, having shows and just madness.
I almost went out there, honestly. I was sitting there and I said to my guitar player, ‘I think I’m gonna go out in the crowd.’ Like, ‘I want to do this. I kind of want to be a little tourist, you know?’ This will be super fun. I want to go watch the show.’ And he’s like, ‘Eh, I’m tired. I’m just gonna go stay back here and just chill, and we can see it from here.’ And I’m like, ‘You know what, you’re right. It’s gonna be a hassle.’ He totally saved my life.
We were just kicking back, and we heard — we, being me and my band — we heard like, fire crackers. That’s what it sounded like. [They were] going off behind the tent where we were, and we were like ‘eh, you know … somebody’s really excited.’ We didn’t really think anything of it. And then it just kept going off, like it went off another round. And we’re like, ‘huh, that’s really weird.’ And then all of a sudden, I just remember somebody was like, “Run.”
People were rushing and ducking, and we were like, “What?” People were just dropping and crying, but there was still a lot of like, “What’s going on?” It’s the end of the night, people were drunk. It was not good. I mean, people were snapping into action, but people were definitely drunk and freaking out. And at that point, it had just happened. Me and Greg [her bandmate] were looking at each other and kind of rolling our eyes, like “why is everyone being so dramatic?”
But we ran, and probably like 10 feet in front of us was Jason’s buses. His buses were pulled up literally next to the main stage; that was in the opposite direction of the shooting, and so we were running that way, which was next to us. So we sandwiched between those, and there were a couple of people with us. One girl — I guess she knew who I was — she just looks at me and goes, “welcome home, Jordan” and I’m just like, “all right, morbid, awesome.” I guess she was trying to be funny, but it was horrible.
We almost got on the bus, actually. But we didn’t have two of our band’s crew, so we were like, “No we can’t.” That’s when they cut the lights and rushed Jason onto the bus. And we were like, “Whoa…”
And then security was like, “You’ve got to keep moving. Get out of here.” So we ran under the stage. We were crouched under the stage for a good 10 minutes, I would say, or more. Just under there, sitting on dirt, under the wires and stuff, and people are using their cellphones to look around — it was dark, because they covered all the lights. People are screaming and I look around, and there’s a girl gushing blood next to me. This guy’s holding her, being like, “She got shot in the head.” We had no idea what was going on.
I texted my manager, and he said, “A shooter at Mandalay Bay. Stay there.” That’s it. At that point, I was like, “Ok, so it’s not right here, but what?” After a little bit, security — because I think they thought there was a shooter on the ground — they were just like, “Get out! You can’t be here. This isn’t even safe.” [We’re] like, “What? We’re not even safe down here? I don’t want to be out in the open!”
They’re like, “Run, run, run!” So we had to get up. We found my bass player immediately, and we were just running out to the parking lot. And there’s like, teams of police officers with shotguns running the other way. We had to move because they’re just rushing through. It was nuts. We’re just running, and I have no idea what’s going on — this whole time, we can’t see the crowd. It didn’t feel real at all, and people were running around me with blood all over them like they had been holding someone.
We got to the parking lot, and they’re like, “You can’t drive.” And we’re like, “Uh, yeah, we’re going.” Well, at first, we hopped in a truck with a bunch of other people, and they’re like, “We’re going this way.” We eventually jumped out, and we’re like, “No, we’re gonna go by tour van. We’re just gonna get out of here.” So we ran back, got our van and then like just tried to head east. I dead-ended down the road with a shotgun pointed at me from a cop. They had us get out, we were strip-searched, and they were like, “You’re cool.” They walked us to an airport hanger, where we spent most of the night.
Thank God my family was gone by then. They left right after Big and Rich, which was right before Jason Aldean. One of my best friends left right before it happened, which is kind of crazy. I mean, I am the littlest person on this bill. They added me late, so when they added me to the lineup, it was pretty much almost sold out – so not all my friends had tickets, it’s not like I had a ton of people there. But, I had a couple of friends in the crowd… everyone I texted the most was like, “Oh yeah, someone next to me just got taken out.” My one friend, she saw a lot. She’s okay, and she ended up in the same hangar where I was. But she saw people gunned down.
[In the hangar], it was just hundreds of other people. People were crying. I saw people I knew, and we were just hugging. Some paramedics came, and they were checking everybody out. And I didn’t see anybody seriously hurt. They eventually bussed us to Thomas & Mack Center. My dad picked us up, took us back to the house. We had no idea what was going on really until we got home and watched the news. By that point, my phone’s getting blown up — my best friend’s calling me, like, “please tell me you’re okay.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I’m fine.” And she’s like, “You have no idea what was going on.”
At that point, they were like “2 dead, we don’t know how many shooters, we don’t know anything.” So we go to bed around 3 a.m., wake up, and it’s like, “50 dead.” I woke up to over 100 messages, people were freaking out. My worlds basically collided, everyone in Vegas and everyone in Nashville — that’s exactly who it affected.
First of all, I’m just thankful that I have my parents here and I’m not stuck in some random, weird hotel waiting because we still don’t have access to our van or instruments or anything. But I’m honestly really proud of my city. I think they have handled this the best way possible — even in the moment, police were there as soon as possible, rushing toward the thing. It was crazy, the response. I mean, it was scary, but it was awesome to see that all of the sudden everyone was there.
To see the news and the headlines, like, “Biggest mass shooting in modern American history”… it’s insane. I grew up here, nothing’s ever happened like this. I mean, crazy stuff has happened, like Tupac [the rapper was fatally shot outside of the now-defunct Maxim Hotel just off the Strip], but in my experience growing up, this is definitely the biggest thing.
I moved two and half, three years ago and this is the first time I’ve come home. Well, I came home for Christmas the first year, but it’s been two years since I’ve been home. Everyone’s happy to see me, and I’m so excited to be home and see my family. I’m literally rolling in for 24 hours and then… boom.
This was my first play back home, and honestly a big moment for me, a big day. We were the first act of the day and we had a great crowd — the sound was awesome, the fans were great. It was a great festival, so well done. Great crew, great, great people. The artist relations girl, Suzie, I texted her yesterday like, “I hope you’ve gotten some sleep,” and she’s like, “Oh no, I’ve seen too much.” They were out there helping everybody.
Our guitars are still on the grounds, but [Suzie] just told me she’ll have to ship them to us because they don’t know when they’ll be able to get back in there. The guys have extra equipment, but those are their favorites — they’re super worried. They’re like, “Oh my God, are they going to insure them?” and I’m like “I’ll make sure they bubble wrap them in like, glitter, [Laughs] it’s going to be fine.” We’re just happy we’re unharmed, so we’re like, “It’s cool, we’re alive, whatever works, no big deal.”
Our van is still somewhere in the airport parking lot somewhere. I went back yesterday, but they wouldn’t let anybody within like a mile. My purse was in there, drums, amps, clothes — everything’s in there. And we were supposed to leave yesterday morning to go back to Nashville. I have a day job I need to get back to — we all do — I’m a personal assistant and a bartender, I have two jobs. And I have a radio thing on Thursday. But I mean, it’s all over national news, people know. They’re like, “take all the time you need,” and I’m like, “I’m coming home, I just want to be home!”
I don’t think I’ve processed this at all… I don’t think it’s hit me. Like, I can’t imagine. I didn’t see anyone get killed. I don’t know anyone personally who was hurt, thank God. But I mean, I don’t know how. I really don’t know how.