It’s no surprise that Jason Aldean was the performer chosen to close the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas. Aldean’s biggest hits are mostly rock-charged party songs, perfect for a huge arena, or to end a three-day country music festival.
Aldean had just started playing “When She Says Baby,” his No. 1 hit from 2013, when the gunfire started Sunday night. Some witnesses said that at first, they thought it was the sound of pyrotechnics, until it became clear that the noise was gunfire. Video footage showed Aldean quickly leaving the stage. At least 58 people were killed and more than 400 were injured, police say, in what is now the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
“Tonight has been beyond horrific. I still dont know what to say but wanted to let everyone know that Me and my Crew are safe,” Aldean wrote on Instagram. “My Thoughts and prayers go out to everyone involved tonight. It hurts my heart that this would happen to anyone who was just coming out to enjoy what should have been a fun night.”
His wife, Brittany, who is pregnant with their first child together, wrote: “Our angels were definitely watching over us tonight. No words for what happened … Just horrific.”
For those unfamiliar with Aldean, 40, until the news Monday morning, he’s one of the biggest stars in Nashville, an artist with a string of top-selling Top 10 radio hits in the past decade and the Academy of Country Music’s entertainer of the year for two consecutive years. He’s known for the intense atmosphere of his live shows, playing stadiums and arenas, and he’s not one to chat between songs — always very focused on stage under his cowboy hat, he prefers to let the music speak for him.
Aldean’s music reflects his upbringing: An avid hunter and outdoorsman, he frequently celebrates the South and people who grew up in small towns, like he did. Songs along these lines include “Amarillo Sky”; “Big Green Tractor”; “My Kinda Party”; “Tattoos on This Town”; “Gonna Know We Were Here” and “Flyover States.” But while his music is often cranked up at tailgates, he has also had some incredibly successful ballads, including “The Truth” and “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” a duet with Kelly Clarkson.
Jake Owen, who performed right before Aldean on Sunday, is also a popular Nashville singer, though on a different end of the spectrum — a Florida native, he has more of a beach vibe to his music. Owen was backstage when the first shots were fired. He immediately started tweeting and included a message to his 4-year-old daughter, Pearl.
The 36-year-old Owen is known for up-tempo hits including “Yee Haw,” “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” and “Beachin’,” along with slower heartache songs, such as “Alone With You” and “Don’t Think I Can’t Love You.” He’s built a fiercely devoted fan base over the years, and on Bobby Bones’s radio show Monday, Owen talked about how horrifying it was to see a fun night out for fans turn into such a tragedy.
“We put on a show so people can have fun and forget about some of the day-to-day life things,” Owen said. He said that, going forward, the artists will “not be scared of these cowards that do this. . . . We will prevail, that’s what we do as Americans.”
Luke Combs, 27, was on stage before Owen — he’s newer to Nashville, but has already made quite an impact, the kind of singer who’s already on prognosticators’ watch lists for the Grammys best new artist category.
His first single released this year, “Hurricane,” launched his career, hitting No. 1 on the radio for two consecutive weeks. Combs released his first album this summer, titled “This One’s For You,” and has had impressive sales for a new act.
Combs earned a loyal following in college at Appalachian State in North Carolina before he moved to Nashville, and it’s very evident — although he’s only on his second radio single, “When It Rains It Pours” (headed for the Top 5 next week), that he can easily sell out a club show and have the whole place singing along.
Combs and his crew were confirmed safe, and Sunday night, he posted a picture on Instagram from his set before the shooting.
“I wanted to post a photo of what this festival was supposed to be about and not give this horrible person the recognition he so desperately wanted,” he wrote. “I am incredibly saddened by tonight’s events and while I’m thankful that me and all of my band and crew are alive and unharmed, I can’t help but hurt for all the people who weren’t as fortunate and the pain their loved ones must feel. Keep Vegas, these fans, and all of the country music community in your thoughts and prayers, we could sure use it tonight.”