Jason Aldean opens “SNL” in a surprise appearance Getty Images/Rick Diamond
Getty Images/Rick Diamond

Jason Aldean and his band have kept a low profile in the aftermath of the Oct. 1 shooting during his headlining set at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas that claimed the lives of 58 fans and injured more than 500 others. But on Oct. 7, they made a surprise appearance on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” opening the show with a performance of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” Petty, 66, died as a result of a heart attack the day after the festival shooting.

“This week we witnessed one of the worst tragedies in American history,” a somber Jason said at the top of the show. “Like everyone, I’m struggling to understand what happened that night, and how to pick up the pieces and start to heal. So may people are hurting. There are children, parents, brothers, sisters, friends, they’re all part of our family. So I want to say to them, we hurt for you, and we hurt with you. But you can be sure that we’re going to walk through these tough times together, every step of the way. Because when American is at its best, our bond and our spirit, it’s unbreakable.”

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Jason had been scheduled to play shows in Los Angeles, San Diego and Anaheim, California, this weekend, but canceled those gigs on Tuesday, explaining in a prepared statement that he did so “out or respect for the victims, their families and our fans.” In the same statement, he said, “Our first time back onstage will be a very tough and emotional thing for us, but we will all get through it together and honor the people we lost by doing the only thing we know how to do — play our songs for them.”

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The “SNL” appearance marked that first time back onstage. Jason’s “They Don’t Know Tour” is scheduled to resume Oct. 12 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

This isn’t the first time Jason has performed “I Won’t Back Down.” He’s played it many times through the years, including this performance at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, in 2015.

Phyllis Stark is a Nashville-based entertainment journalist who has been reporting extensively on country music (and loving every moment of it) for more than two decades.
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