In the aftermath of the massacre at the Route 91 Harvest festival in October 2017, country star Jason Aldean - who was performing when the gunman started shooting - vividly remembers when he first started to emotionally recover from the horrific tragedy.
Aldean and his band members escaped to safety, but in the following days, they struggled with trauma and survivors' guilt. The following weekend, Aldean was invited to be on Saturday Night Live, where he sang Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" as a tribute to the victims. Being back onstage and seeing the positive response to the performance helped the whole band process grief.
"The reaction we got from that show sort of changed the way we looked at a lot of that stuff," Aldean said last week at the Country Radio Seminar (CRS) in Nashville, an annual industry event for radio programmers. "It made us realise that there are still way more good people out in the world than there are bad, than this one guy who had done this insanely disgusting thing. . . . It was a really healing thing for all of us."
Aldean appeared at CRS for a moderated panel called "Overcoming Obstacles," which looked at various challenges over the course of his 20-year country music career. But the crowd appeared most curious about how he handled the aftermath of Las Vegas. During a brief audience Q&A, one attendee offered a caveat that the question might be "too personal" but asked anyway whether Aldean sought therapy after the shooting.
"I probably should've gone to a few more therapy sessions than I did," Mr Aldean said. "But honestly, for me, just being able to talk to my guys - to talk to the people that I was close to that went through it with me, I think, is the biggest thing. Just being able to talk about it a little bit with someone who understood how I was feeling. That helped me tremendously."
Another audience member asked how Aldean addressed the tragedy with his preteen and teenage daughters.
He said his oldest was "pretty shaken up thinking that I was the target of whatever was going on" and they had an honest conversation about what happened. It was especially essential after, as typically happens with mass shootings, conspiracy theories started spreading online.
"I saw stuff out there that had my tattoos, saying that I was part of the Illuminati, which was the dumbest thing I've ever read," Aldean said. "Being able to sit them down so that they didn't go out and read some crazy story… I think was the thing that helped them the most."
Nearly 18 months later, Aldean has gotten to know some of the injured concertgoers, whom he visited in the hospital. He said he also makes time for victims' family members if they want to come backstage and talk to him before a concert. The shooting will never not be on his mind, he said, particularly onstage during "When She Says Baby," the song they were playing when the gunfire started. Though Mr Aldean took it out of the set for a while, it is now part of his concerts again.
"Maybe it was a song that at one point was just fun, and we just kind of ran through it during the show - now it has a different meaning," he said. "We're fortunate to be here and get to play it one more time."
The Washington Post
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