Church headlined Day 1 of the Route 91 Harvest Festival, two days before a man killed 59 people and injured at least 527 while shooting down at the 22,000-person crowd from a window on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. What transpired quickly became the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Church told Wednesday's crowd he mustered up the strength to perform that night because of two of his fans in particular: Heather Melton and her husband, Sonny Melton, who died shielding his wife from the bullets. The Meltons, huge Church fans, also had tickets to the Opry. Those seats were left empty.
Church finished his five-minute tribute with a rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," which he dedicated specifically to Sonny Melton and those who lost their lives in the senseless shooting.
No amount of paraphrasing will do Church's tribute justice; read his speech in its entirety below.
This passed Friday, I played the Harvest Music Festival in Vegas, and I was a headliner, and I looked out there at that crowd in that place. It was the last show of the year. I watched them hold American flags up during 'How 'Bout You.' I watched them put an American scarf around my neck during 'Springsteen.' They held records up when I played 'Record Year.' They held boots up when I played 'These Boots.' And I was so moved by it, mainly because I looked at them and went, 'This is my crowd. I've seen this crowd all year. They're mine.' They came from all over the country 'cause it was our last show.
I did something different on the last song, on 'Springsteen.' I jumped down on the speaker and I went down actually on the floor, and it was a high stage, so I actually jumped out on the crowd. There was a little row that split the crowd on either side...crowd was on the right side, crowd was on the left side. I went down the right side and I shook everybody's hand, and I told them 'Thank you for coming. It's been a heck of a year. It's been a hell of a year, actually.' I went all the way down the right side...came back up the left side, smiling faces, hands in the air, pictures being taken.
I jumped back up on stage and I played 'Holdin' My Own' and 'A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young.' And 48 hours later, those places that I stood, was carnage. Those were my people. Those were my fans.
I didn't want to be here tonight. I didn't want to play guitar. I didn't want to walk on the stage. But last night -- let me try to get this out -- 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 her Church Choir Tour shirt. And he said, 'What brought you to Vegas?' And she goes, 'We went there to see Eric Church.' Because it was Sonny's -- her husband who died -- it was his guy. 'We went there to see his guy.' And then she said, 'We have tickets for the Grand Old Opry tomorrow night.'
Over here, Section 3, Row F. If you're there, if you're in Row F, there's some empty seats, and that's their seats. The reason I'm here tonight is because of Heather Melton, her husband, who died, and every person that was there. And let me tell you something, I saw that crowd. I saw them with their hands in the air. I saw them with boots in the air. And what I saw -- that moment in time that was frozen -- there's no amount of bullets that can take away. None. That night, something broke in me -- Sunday night when that happened. And the only way I've ever fixed anything that's been broken in me is with music, so I wrote a song.