Jason Aldean was an unannounced special guest on Saturday Night Live, delivering a moving speech about the Las Vegas mass shooting before performing Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” during the sketch show’s cold open. Aldean was onstage at the Route 91 Harvest festival when a gunman opened fire on the crowd, killing 58 and wounding more than 500.
“This week we witnessed one of the worst tragedies in American history. Like everyone I’m struggling to understand what happened that night, and how to pick up the pieces and start to heal,” Aldean said on SNL. “So many people are hurting and they’re our children, parents, brothers, sisters, friends. They’re all part of our family.
“I want to say to them, we hurt for you and we hurt with you,” he continued. “You can be sure we’re going to walk through these tough times together, every step of the way. Because when America is at its best, our bond and our spirit, it’s unbreakable.”
Aldean, backed by his muscular band, then launched into Petty’s anthem of defiance “I Won’t Back Down.” The leader of the Heartbreakers died at 66 on Monday, just as the nation, and especially its music community, was reeling from the Las Vegas tragedy.
Aldean’s appearance on SNL, hosted this week by Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot, marked the Georgia native’s first public performance since the shooting. He canceled three scheduled concerts on his They Don’t Know Tour this weekend out of respect for the victims and is set to return to the road on October 12th in Tulsa, Oklahoma.