(l. to r. – Kurt Allison, Jack Sizemore, Tully Kennedy, Jason Aldean, Rich Redmond, Jay Jackson)

     Waking up to the news of what happened in Las Vegas would have been shocking under any circumstances. When I was told it involved Jason Aldean and his band, my heart stopped. I know that band and some of their crew. I also knew that a dear friend was there watching that show. This wasn’t just another tragic news story we’ve become accustomed to. This was personal. Thankfully, it took just minutes to find something on social media that told me the band, crew, and my friends were safe. I could breathe again. I read the news reports as fast as they were coming in, and each subsequent story revealed more gruesome and heartbreaking details. It was numbing and unimaginable. This was a setting I knew well – country music, a Jason Aldean show, and thousands of people gathered to watch. Being that this was a festival in a marquee city like Vegas, there were a lot more artists and auxiliary people involved, but the core of this was personally familiar. In the aftermath and commentary I’ve read, much has been said about this becoming a permanent part of Jason Aldean’s legacy. Historically, it will. But there’s a much bigger picture.

     We have suddenly become a society that thrives on divisiveness. We line up according to our differences, not our similarities. Those bullets flying around Sunday night didn’t give a damn about our differences. People were shot at, indiscriminately. Common ground is what kept that horrible event from becoming an even bigger tragedy. The music and friendships that brought those people to that place, on stage and in the crowd, are what saved the lives of so many that might otherwise have been lost. Jason Aldean just happened to be the artist on stage when tragedy struck, but his legacy should not be associated with the worst of that night. Rather, it should be entwined with the best of what we saw that night. Jason’s fan club recently asked for stories of how his music or his concerts had an impact on the lives of his fans. The only one I know is my own, and I think this is the appropriate time to tell it.

     “Hicktown” is an odd place to start a beautiful friendship. Not exactly the image we saw in Casablanca. I’d stepped away from country music after Garth Brooks and Shania Twain exited the scene. In 2013, a random scan of radio stations stopped on WMZQ, and “Hicktown” was just starting. It wasn’t like anything I’d ever heard on country radio. I went home and researched the artist and his band. Immediately after, I bought every album he had out to date. That May, I bought my first ticket to a country music concert – Jason’s show in Hershey Park, Pennsylvania in August. I made up a playlist on my iPod with all of his songs on it, and ran six to eight miles a day, every day that summer, learning every word to every song in preparation for that show. It was the Night Train Tour, and I’ll never forget it. He introduced every member of his band, at length, and referred to them as “the best damn band on the planet.” I knew they’d been together since the beginning of his career, long before he was a headlining superstar. I also knew they played on all of his albums, which isn’t the norm in country music. The bond between Jason and his band was palpable, on stage and off. I will never forget that first show and the feeling I walked away with. My life was in a very transitional phase at that time, and Jason’s music, that show, and the whole country music scene pointed me in a new direction.

     Country music has a fan base that’s unlike any other I’ve been around. They’re rabidly loyal to the artists they love, and tend to support the genre as a whole, unconditionally. I delved into the fan groups of various artists and talked with some incredible people that inspired me to become a music writer. Things started happening very quickly. I went to a second Jason Aldean concert five months after the first, and a third six months later. That was July, 2014, where I met Jason’s drummer, Rich Redmond, who’d agreed to an interview. The big bang theory might best describe that interview, because it opened up a whole new world for me. At that time, I’d never set foot in Nashville, Tennessee, and knew no one connected to the music industry at all. I made my first visit in January, 2015, and Rich’s friendship and generosity made it feel like home. He offered the tools and advice to start the music blog I now call, and that was just the beginning.

     Over the past four years, it’s impossible to sum up how much my life has changed. I have met so many amazing people in the musician community in Nashville, all of whom have affected my life in one way or another. I’ve been to Nashville every month since that first visit, and making that drive wasn’t something I could do when this venture first started. I used Jason’s music to work through a very difficult issue that prevented me from driving on the highway. Those first few trips, 12 hours each way, were extremely challenging. I played every Aldean record, multiple times, singing along until I lost my voice. To this day, I’ve made every drive with all of his music as my road trip soundtrack. The other big part of this picture is the friendships I’ve made with the fans of country music. Some of the most exceptional people in my life have become friends through our mutual love of music. These are the people who make up the country music fan base. This is the crowd that was present in Las Vegas. Their stories are likely just like mine. They’ve made friendships and connections through events just like the Route 91 Harvest Festival. Music, like that of Jason Aldean, brought them together in that place. One evil person put them in harm’s way that night.

     For all of the arguing that has taken place over the sound of country music, what’s “real country” and what isn’t, none of it matters. All of that divisiveness is moot when the sound of automatic gunfire is unmistakable. At that moment, what brought those people together is what ultimately saved lives and comforted the dying. My heart breaks for those that lost their lives and were injured in a place they found such joy, and for those who have to live with the memory of the traumatic events of that night. Jason Aldean will have the notoriety and the scars from this experience for the rest of his life, but I hope his legacy is more fondly remembered for the good his music brought to people’s lives, not what this monster took away during his show. There are countless stories like mine that are associated with Jason and so many other country artists. The headlines will always tout the worst of things. It’s the stories on the ground that matter most, and I think this one showed the best of the country music community, both on and off stage. If I could say one thing to Jason Aldean, it would be this: You have given far more to your fans than any one person or evil act could possibly take away. Don’t ever forget that.

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Bev Miskus

Blogger of all things music related in Nashville and beyond.

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