Recording artist Eric Church performs during the Route 91 Harvest country music festival at the Las Vegas Village on September 29, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Mindy Small/FilmMagic)
Hunter Kelly, Rare.us
Eric Church headlined the Route 91 Harvest Festival on Sept. 29, which was his last full show of 2017. His fans came from all over the country to see him one more time, and Church instantly recognized the fans as his own.
During an emotional appearance on the Grand Ole Opry a few nights later, Church remembered his time with the Route 91 crowd. He said, “I watched them hold American flags up during ‘How ‘Bout You.’ I watched them put an American scarf around my neck during ‘Springsteen.’ They held records up when I played ‘Record Year.’ They held boots up when I played ‘These Boots.’ And I was so moved by it, mainly because I looked at ’em and went, ‘This is my crowd. I’ve seen this crowd all year. They’re mine.'”
Since it was the last show of the year, Church decided to get out into the crowd in Vegas and thank the fans for giving him such an incredible year on the road. There was an open space that ran through the middle of the fans, and he ran through it towards the middle of his set.
“I went down the right side, and I shook everybody’s hand, and I told them, ‘Thank you for coming. It’s been a heck of a year. It’s been a hell of a year, actually.’ I went all the way down the right side. Waved at my sound guy. Came back up the left side. Smiling faces. Hands in the air. Pictures being taken. I jumped back up onstage. I played ‘Holdin’ My Own’ and ‘A Man That Was Gonna Die Young.'”
He then watched in horror on the news as a gunman shot into that same crowd on Sunday night during Jason Aldean’s show.
He told the Opry audience, “Forty-eight hours later, those places that I stood was carnage. Those were my people. Those were my fans.”
Church admitted he didn’t want to be onstage at the Opry this week, but then he saw a woman named Heather Melton being interviewed by Anderson Cooper on CNN while wearing one of his tour t-shirts. Her husband, Sonny, was gunned down in the mass shooting, and Heather Melton told the anchor they were at the festival to see Church, who was Sunny’s favorite artist.
Church continued, “Then she said, ‘We have tickets for the Grand Ole Opry tomorrow night.’ Over here, section three, row F, if you’re there, row four, there’s some empty seats. Those are their seats.”
The tribute to those fallen fans continued as Church added, “The reason I’m here tonight is because of Heather Melton, and Sonny, who died, and every person that was there. Because let me tell you, I saw that crowd. I saw them with their hands in the air. I saw them with boots in the air. What I saw, that moment in time that was frozen, there’s no amount of bullets that can take away. Nothing.”
Church remembered the victims in Las Vegas with a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
He also said the shooting “broke something” inside of him, and that the only way he’s ever fixed anything broken inside himself is through music. So, Church wrote a new song to cope with the tragedy called “Why Not Me” and debuted it on the Opry stage that night.