A little over three days ago, Chris Young was taking cover on the floor of a trailer as gunfire ravaged the Route 91 Harvest Festival on the Las Vegas strip.
“Listening to that gunfire… I’m literally shaking still,” Young tweeted early Monday morning.
In all, 58 people died and nearly 500 were injured after a man opened fire on the concert from the 32nd floor of a nearby hotel – the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
After living through something like that, you could understand if a musical act wasn’t in a hurry to jump on a stage in front of hundreds of strangers. Jason Aldean, who Young is currently on tour with, chose to cancel his shows this week in Los Angeles, San Diego and Anaheim, citing respect for the victims and their families. Aldean was on stage when the shots rang out.
No one would have blamed Young if he didn’t show up for work Wednesday night at The Big Fresno Fair’s Paul Paul Theater, where the largest crowd I have ever seen in that venue awaited him.
Young did a lot more than show up. He and his six band mates put on a riveting show – one he called “therapeutic” given the circumstances.
“I love doing this,” Young said toward the end of his 90-minute show. “You can come on this stage and forget about the world for a while and not deal with something like we had in Vegas.
“I love you guys.”
Country music is not my thing. In fact, my mother outlawed me from listening to it as a child. But it’s impossible not to feel something for artists and fans coming together to have a great time in spite of a vicious and sudden attack on everything they love just days earlier.
Young surprised the audience by hitting the stage as everyone was still filing in to deliver a stripped-down acoustic rendition of Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High On That Mountain” – an extremely sad song written as a eulogy to Keith Whitley and Gill’s older brother. Young mentioned Las Vegas to the crowd before performing the song, but he stopped short of actually dedicating it.
Young’s band then joined him on stage for business as usual.
It was a fun show. I’ve never been to a country concert before, so I have no basis for comparison, but Young’s fans seemed rabid for a good time. The anthems about finding love – for the night or forever – as well as drinking tequila and beer were a major hit.
“Drinks are like potato chips,” he joked at one point. “You don’t just have one.”
Young shocked me and anyone else able to recognize the choice with a solid cover of ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man,” which featured solos from most of his backing musicians. It was easily the second-best rendition of that song I have seen at the Paul Paul. You just can’t beat the original, which I was front and center for when ZZ Top played the fair in 2011.
He took it one step further with a cover of Eric Clapton’s “Change The World” that was, I’m fairly certain, a better version than any Clapton has performed. A slow rock ballad was not for this crowd, however, and everyone seated near me who was under 30 proceeded to talk with each other or check their phones until Young got back to performing his originals.
Young’s strong voice and charm burned brightly at what had to be a trying time for him. He was able to keep the good-time stage persona alive for most of the show, but he broke character as he left the stage to deliver a heartfelt message:
“When you leave here tonight, text everyone you know and tell them you love them,” Young said. “Thanks ya’ll, and thanks for country music.”