Jason Aldean didn’t hold back on any answer he gave in his keynote interview at Nashville’s Country Radio Seminar.
In the panel titled, “Overcoming Obstacles,” Aldean detailed all the tribulations that have occurred throughout his life including the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history that happened during his show at the 2017 Route 91 Harvest Festival.
Aldean was performing “When She Says Baby” during Route 91’s final set (Oct. 1) when a gunman opened fire from his room at the Mandalay Bay hotel on the festival’s sold-out crowd below, killing 58 people and injuring more than 850 others.
Aldean said the song has a different meaning now.
“We had taken it out of the set for the remainder of that tour,” Aldean said. “We were watching the footage over and over on TV just like everyone else. And then you hear that song, and you start hearing rounds popping off. For us, it was, ‘Let’s put this in a drawer for a little while, and we’ll revisit it later.’
“We do play it now,” Aldean said. “It was maybe a song, at one point, we just ran through during the show. Now, it has a different meaning. It’s almost like we’re fortunate to be here and to get to play it one more time. That’s the feeling I think we all have.”
He said visiting hospitalized victims days after the tragedy was one of the hardest things he’s ever done.
“I was glad we went out there,” Aldean said, “but it was tough to see people laying there that had been at our show a few days before and went to have a great time and never asked for that. Knowing they were there to see us, and that’s how they left, to me, it was gut-wrenching.”
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Feels surreal being back in Vegas today. Visiting some of the strongest people we have ever met… fighting the toughest battle of them all… for their lives. You have helped us try to begin the healing process by seeing the strength each one of you have. Thank you for today. We will never forget. #vegasstrong
He added that leaning on the people who were there — his wife, Brittany (who was at the time eight months pregnant with their son, Memphis), his longtime bandmates and other survivors — helped him heal as a victim himself.
“My band and I have been together for 20 years, and that’s a brotherhood now is unbreakable,” Aldean said.
The conversation had Aldean chronicling his adversities throughout life with moderators SummitMedia’s Beverlee Brannigan and Country Radio Broadcasters’ RJ Curtis. Aldean said his life in music was a natural move after starting his first touring band at age 18 (“The thought of going to school for four years was nauseating,” he said.).
He moved to Nashville in 1998 to be a songwriter, but after six years of being signed to a record deal that went nowhere, Aldean found himself without a publishing deal, jobless and a new father.
“I moved to Nashville at 21, and by 25 I was a dad,” he said. “That’s expensive … From that whole time from ’98 to ’04, I was signed to Capitol records and nothing happened, which was probably the best thing that could have happened at that point. But I felt like I had done everything to get things going, and we just really weren’t getting a lot of action. Having a kid at home, that was priority No. 1, and I was planning my exit to regroup.”
He was about to move the young family home to Georgia when he reluctantly headlined a showcase at Nashville’s Wildhorse Saloon. In the audience for Aldean’s performance were representatives from Broken Bow Records, the company that would become Aldean’s longtime label home.
“Luckily for me at the time Broken Bow was on the upswing. They had Craig Morgan and Cherie Austin, and they were having a couple radio hits. I remember being really green to how the whole record industry worked. Even though I had lived here and been on the publishing side, I didn’t really know much about the labels and how that worked.
“I just remember [saying], ‘This should be pretty easy. You guys get the songs played at radio, I’m going to go tour and work my ass off, and that’s pretty much how we’re going to make this happen.’ I thought it was that easy.
“Somehow it worked out. I think ‘Hicktown’ was on the chart for 40 weeks before it peaked, and I played 250 shows to win people over one person at a time – grassroots-style at the clubs. But I give them credit to pushing the songs at radio.”
At one point during the Q&A Aldean said he owes his tenacity to his competitive spirit.
“I hate to lose even if I play Monopoly,” Aldean admitted. “There was a lot of determination to be the best, and I wanted to be better than the next guy. That was something instilled in me early on, and that carries on even into today every time I go onstage now. If we go on before or after somebody, I want people to remember our show.”