Morgan Wallen wrapped his sold-out, three-night run at Bridgestone Arena Friday night, having played for more than 35,000 fans and hosting special guests including ERNEST, Ronnie Dunn, Eric Church, Jason Aldean and Jimmie Allen.
Allen’s appearance at Wallen’s side for “The Way I Talk” during night one felt like an attempt from both men to dampen the year-old controversy that Wallen sparked in February of 2021 when he was caught on video drunk and using a racial slur. He vanished from the public eye; his record label suspended his contract. He was removed from country radio, dropped by his agency, and disqualified from the 2021 Academy of Country Music Awards and the 2021 Country Music Association Awards.
However, his fans – Allen, Church and Aldean – were always supportive. Wallen’s “Dangerous: The Double Album,” which had been out about one month when he got in trouble, sold 4.1 million units to top 2021’s all-genre Billboard 200 Albums year-end chart.
Aldean welcomed Wallen on stage for a surprise appearance during Luke Bryan’s headlining set at Bridgestone Arena last July for his most significant public experience since his embroilment. While the appearance triggered a firestorm of harsh headlines, fans were jubilant at his emergence. Church posted leisure photos of himself with Wallen on social media and welcomed him on stage to perform at a private event in Nashville about two months after his Bridgestone Arena appearance.
Allen dedicated himself to helping Wallen understand the gravity of his word choice.
“If we want to make the world a better place, we have to do the work, and the work is putting ourselves in uncomfortable situations,” Allen said on Bobby Bones’ podcast. “When Morgan said what he said, I had two choices: I could yell at him and bash at him on social media, or I could take some time and really process the whole thing, and look at who Morgan is, look at Morgan’s state of mind when he said that, look at Morgan’s history.”
The” Freedom Was a Highway” singer said he realized the frequent use of the slur in some music and movies means it is “subconsciously embedded” in people’s minds. Allen said the men talked daily for a while as he tried to share his perspective.
“True, you know, you shouldn’t say it,” Allen said. “But at the same time, just because I don’t agree with what he said doesn’t mean I should banish him.”
Allen’s choice to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Wallen in the spotlight feels like a signal to move forward and came the week after he co-hosted the 57th Academy of Country Music Awards, on which Wallen’s “Dangerous: The Double Album” won the prestigious Album of the Year. The Sneedville, Tennessee, native appeared stunned and emotional by the ACM acknowledgment.
“I’d… like to thank my good lord and savior Jesus Christ, my family, my friends, my team in Nashville, country radio, and everyone who has shown me grace along the way,” Wallen said when he won Album of the Year. “Most importantly, I have to address my fans personally and directly: thank you, thank you, thank you!”
The sentiment works for his trophy but also his sold-out arena tour.
The energy in the crowd was unbridled elation this week when the Sneedville, Tennessee, rose to the Bridgestone Arena stage seated at his Nord Grand piano for his two-hour set. He kicked off the 26-song setlist with his most recent No. 1 “Sand in My Boots.” He followed up with “Somethin’ Country” and then took a moment to address the audience after “Up Down.”
“I really appreciate you being here tonight,” Wallen said. “I got a lot of people I care about here, a lot of people who believed in me for a long time are in the building tonight… this is really special to me.”
Wallen’s stage is shaped like an M, and he spent the night working every angle of it, moving through hits and popular album cuts as fans screamed the lyrics.
Fireworks erupted from the stage during “Still Goin’ Down” and “Silverado For Sale” slowed the pace for a breather. “7 Summers” earned an enormous cheer from fans, and “Wonderin’ Bout the Wind” came with a story. He said he wrote it “as hungover as I’ve ever been,” and he thought maybe he could turn it into a song.
“It’s always been special to me,” he said. “It’s always been special to me. It’s one of my favorite songs, but it won’t ever be a single. I hope you all like it, too.”
Wallen told fans that he moved to Nashville in 2015, but he started singing longer ago than that. He grew up in church, and his dad was a preacher. His mom put him on stage when he was 3 years old.
“I’ve been singing ever since,” he said. “For me, it was always music and baseball. Those were the only things I did. I always imagined myself on The World Series, bases loaded. I never really thought I’d be in Bridgestone Arena singing music, that’s for sure. But it feels like the World Series up here for me tonight.”
Wallen said he always thought he could sing, but he wasn’t sure if he could write songs – and he didn’t try until he was 19 years old. He moved to Nashville and wrote “Chasin’ You” a few months later.
“This is the first song I wrote where when we got done, I thought, ‘That’s a good song,'” Wallen said. “This song means a lot to me because it gave me a lot of hope. It gave me a lot of faith. It helped me to stay on the path I was on and not feel crazy for chasing this dream. A few years later, you guys made it a No. 1 on country radio.”
ERNEST surprised fans when he showed up to sing the duo’s he shares with Wallen, “Flower Shop.” Tour opener Larry Fleet reemerged to sing his “Where I Find God.” Then Brooks & Dunn’s Ronnie Dunn arrived on night one to join Wallen on “Talkin’ Tennessee.” Then, Dunn got the arena singing along even louder on “Neon Moon.” HARDY popped back out for a ’90s rock spot of “He Went to Jared,” complete with a pyro show and a beer to shotgun.
“More Than My Hometown” was another highlight that included family photos of Wallen on the screens that flanked the stage.
Allen made a statement when he came out to work the stage with Wallen for “The Way I Talk,” and the set ended soon after with “Wasted on You” and “Whiskey Glasses.”