Eric Church says he is “broken” this week — the country singer didn’t want to take the Grand Ole Opry stage Wednesday night.
None of it felt right, he said, after headlining at the Route 91 Harvest Festival on Friday in front of the same crowd that was the target of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history just days later.
Stephen Paddock was identified by police as the person who opened fire on a crowd of 22,000 Jason Aldean concertgoers from his 32nd-floor window at the Mandalay Bay hotel. Police entered his room and found him dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
“And 48 hours later, in those places that I stood, was carnage,” Church said during his performance Wednesday night. “Those are my people. Those are my fans.”
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Church was teary-eyed as he told the Grand Ole Opry crowd what finally brought him to the stage.
He pointed to two empty seats in the audience that were for Heather and Sonny Melton, who were celebrating their first anniversary at the Route 91 Harvest Festival when gunshots rang out. Sonny grabbed his wife as soon as he heard the gunshots and she said she felt him get shot in the back.
“He saved my life and lost his,” Heather Melton told WZTV.
Church found out the night before that the couple had tickets to his Grand Ole Opry show.
“Last night somebody sent me a video of a lady named Heather Melton and she was talking to Anderson Cooper on CNN and she had on our Church Choir Tour shirt,” he said.
Heather told Cooper that her husband loved Eric Church and they were at that festival to see him.
“The reason I’m here, the reason I’m here tonight, is because of Heather Melton and her husband, Sonny, who died, and every person that was there,” Church told the crowd.
Church said something broke in him on Sunday night.
“And the only way I’ve ever fixed anything that’s been broken in me is with music,” he said. “So I wrote a song.”
Strumming his guitar, he then began to play “Why Not Me?” — dedicated to the victims of Sunday’s shooting.
“Darkness descended the desert. And a bad actor started his play,” Church sang. “Why you from Tennessee did life capture? And me with Tennessee get away?”
Church thanked fans at the end of his performance and said it was the hardest show he’s ever had to play.
Early this week, another country artist, Maren Morris, released a song “Dear Hate,” in response to Sunday’s shooting.