Grand Ole Opry

Eric Church dedicates his powerful performance to two empty seats in Section 3.

Perri Ormont Blumberg
October 6, 2017

The signature aviators couldn’t hide Eric Church’s tear-stained face as the country star took the stage at the Grand Ole Opry Wednesday night. The strength of his homebase in Nashville couldn’t lure the Friday Night Harvest Festival headliner—“I didn't want to be here tonight. I didn't want to play guitar.”—from the depths of his immense sadness. The healing power of music couldn’t even convince Church to don his signature leather jacket and strum his way through the motions.

There was only thing that convinced Church to dutifully clack one boot behind the next as he wove his way through the Opry’s tiny backstage to the spotlight. Heather Melton.

Palpably shaken, Church opened up about the impact Heather had on him. "I didn't want to be here tonight. But last night somebody sent me a video of a lady named Heather Melton...she had on [an Eric Church tour] shirt [on CNN],” Church begins. “[Anderson Cooper] said, ‘What brought you to Vegas?’ And she goes, ‘We went there to see Eric Church because he was Sonny’s’—her husband who died—‘it was his guy. And we went there to see his guy.’ And then she said, ‘We have tickets for the Grand Ole Opry tomorrow night.’”

WATCH: Southerners Who Defined Country Music  

Struggling to hold back tears, he continues “Section 3 Row F, there’s some empty seats...and that’s their seats. And I want to tell you something. The reason I’m here tonight is because of Heather Melton, her husband Sonny who died, and every person that was there. 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 could take that away.”

After his deeply moving speech, Church debuted a song, ‘Why Not Me,’ he wrote to honor Sonny Melton and the 57 other victims of the Las Vegas mass shooting.

There’s a popular quote often invoked during tragedy: “Where words fail, music speaks.” But the timely adage omits the most powerful lesson Church’s new hymn can teach us: When music speaks, hope reigns.

Watch the entire speech and  performance below.

To help support the victims and their families, you can donate to the Las Vegas Victims' Fund on GoFundMe here.