Country star Morgan Wallen raised a staggering $725,000 for victims of devastating Tennessee floods on Wednesday night (September 8), using his return to the stage to spotlight values like community and perseverance.
The sold-out and live-streamed show took place at Nashville’s Marathon Music Works, and marked the Dangerous: The Double Album hit maker’s first official concert since a controversial video appeared in early February. It captured Wallen using a racial slur to jokingly refer to a white friend in an alcohol-fueled, late-night incident at his home, and swiftly made Morgan the focus of intense backlash.
He apologized and stepped out of the spotlight in the months following, canceling tour plans and getting removed from radio playlists while remaining the best-selling artist in the nation. But even though Wednesday’s show did carry the weight of what happened, Wallen kept the focus on families now suffering through terrible loss.
Remarking early on that the show was put together in six days, Wallen invited a big lineup of fellow stars for a writers-round style show, with artists taking turns on acoustic version of their songs. Dierks Bentley, Cole Swindell and hit songwriter-turned-CMA-nominated newcomer HARDY joined their host to headline, while newcomers Lainey Wilson, ERNEST, Ben Burgess and Jared Mullins kicked things off.
When Wallen first arrived onstage, comedian and emcee Theo Von joked that fans were allowed to take pictures — unless they were Wallen’s neighbors — while Wallen said he was so moved by news of the flooding, that he felt compelled to do something about it. More than 20 people lost their lives in flash floods that impacted the counties just west of Nashville, with many more left homeless.
Many of the night’s song choices spoke to the gravity of the moment, with Bentley’s resilient “I Hold On” getting the crowd swaying together, and Swindell’s grief-stricken “You Should Be Here” starting a somber singalong. After HARDY arrived onstage — greeted by Wallen with a huge hug and introduced as one of the star’s best friends — he tore through a number of chart topping songs he wrote for other artists, along with a powerful version of “Give Heaven Some Hell,” written about a friend lost too early.
In between sets, a guitar singed by the performers was auctioned off to the crowd, pulling in $20,000 for the Heartstrings Foundation. And meanwhile, an upbeat tone spoke to the other side of the night’s story.
“We’re all glad to be here tonight, but it’s damn good to see Morgam Wallen back onstage,” Swindell said about halfway through, earning a massive roar from the crowd of 1,800.
Wallen was showered with cheers from the moment he stepped onstage — dressed in his trademark sleeveless button-up and flowing mullet — but he mostly took them in stride. With his first number, “Sand In My Boots,” what seemed like every phone in the building began recording, and many continued on with each song. Wallen even shared that his hit “Chasin’ You” was one of the first songs he ever wrote in Nashville — to the astonishment of Bentley, who reminded everyone that his first song was called “She Chews Tobacco (But She Won’t Choose Me).”
Tracks like “Whiskey Glasses” and “Heartless” were punctuated by a warm smile from the star, grinning as fans sang over the top of his sandpaper vocal. And a surprise guest popped up during “Wasted On You,” when rising talent Lathan Warlick came out to rap over the song’s final verse. As one of country’s emerging black artists, it was a purposeful moment, but not a showy one.
Likewise, country/hip-hop phenom BRELAND also made a surprise appearance, joining Bentley for a run through their new co-written collab with HARDY on “Beers On Me.” With Bentley egging him on, BRELAND stuck around for an acoustic version of his breakthrough hit, “My Truck,” thrilling the crowd and astonishing those on stage with his unique vocal flow.
The night wrapped up with a few more songs from each artist and the presentation of a giant, $725,000 dollar check, with Wallen reminding fans why they were there. Introducing a young family who’d lost everything in the flood, he said simply, “We care about you,” before adding that he wasn’t sure how his first show back would go.
“I didn’t know what to expect, and my life been all over the place lately,” he admitted. “But I can’t think of better way to come back.”
A Tennessee native, Morgan Wallen closed out the fundraising night with one final performance, singing “More Than My Hometown.”