The 40-year-old country star gave an emotional interview to Today on Tuesday, where he opened up for the first time on television about the trauma he’s still living with over a month after the shooting.
“I just want everybody to know for me, this is something that obviously we’re all going to try to move on and I have to do that as well, but it’s something I’ll never forget,” Aldean said. “I hope everybody can start to heal. Some of the stuff you’ll never get over. I hope it gets better for everybody as time goes on.”
Aldean was performing at the Route 91 Harvest Festival across from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on Oct. 1 when a gunman started shooting into the crowd from the hotel — killing 58 people and injuring 489.
“We wear in-ear monitors when we’re on stage,” Aldean recalled. “And really all you can hear is the music and maybe your guys that can talk to you on microphones that are on the side-stage.”
He continued, “So when it first happened, I thought a speaker had blown. It just sounded like a crackling something. And so, I’m kind of looking around like, ‘What is that?’ [and] trying to figure out what it is. Then it stopped, so I was like, ‘They must have got it fixed,’ so I kept doing my thing.”
Not long after, the noise kicked in again. “It lasted longer the second time,” Aldean recalled. “I was actually kind of getting aggravated, so I looked over at the monitor guy on the side of the stage, and I was like, ‘What is that? And fix it.’ So when I turned and looked, my guitar player had run behind me and was telling me to move, like, ‘Let’s go,’ and my security guy was running on stage, telling me to run.”
Of the atmosphere, Aldean described it as “pandemonium.”
“It was hectic — just panic,” he said. “I think everybody just kind of panicked and didn’t know where to go and what to do. It was just kind of crazy.”
Since the shooting, Aldean has supported the victims by releasing the cover of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” he performed for his surprise return to the stage on Saturday Night Live, with all proceeds going to the Direct Impact Fund to help survivors. He and his wife Brittany, who are expecting their first child together next month, also visited with victims still recovering in Las Vegas.
After canceling a series of concerts in the wake of the tragedy, Aldean continued his They Don’t Know Tour on Oct. 12 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to perform the show “that the people in Las Vegas came to see and didn’t get a chance to.”
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The singer again honored the victims of the shooting at the CMT Artists of the Year special with fellow artists Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line‘s Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley, Chris Stapleton and Keith Urban.
“Honestly, being back on stage probably helped more than anything,” Aldean told Today. “We didn’t have a lot of time to process it.”
In the end, he’s hoping the experience will bring Americans together.
“I feel like at the end of the day there’s so much focus on politics and race,” Aldean said. “[But] we’re all in this together. We spend so much time arguing together and not enough time working on the issues. That’s really the problem.”