Embattled country superstar Morgan Wallen returned to public life in a big way during a Luke Bryan concert Friday night, being greeted by a lengthy, roaring standing ovation at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena as he joined Bryan, Jason Aldean and Tyler Hubbard on stage to do celebratory shots and sing a couple of his greatest hits.
It was the second and by far larger of two times Wallen has stepped onto a stage this year since retreating from the limelight in the wake of a scandal over being filmed using the N-word in February, following a short, surprise appearance at Kid Rock’s bar in May. Following closely on the heels of a much-discussed interview on “Good Morning America” July 23, the gig with Bryan Friday would seem to indicate Wallen feels his long time-out should be over, although he hasn’t publicly discussed any upcoming plans for concerts or anything else.
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Introducing “More Than My Hometown,” the first of two hits he sang, Wallen said, “This is a song about staying true to yourself. That’s been a really hard thing for me to do lately.”
Wallen did what were said to be tequila shots with his three cohorts about a minute into the thunderous ovation — a move bound to strike some as an odd public gesture just a week after the singer told “GMA” host Michael Strahan he’d recently spent 30 days in rehab.
The singer told Strahan that, following the furor over his racial slur, which occurred at the end of what he described as a 72-hour bender, he’d been “trying to figure out, do I have an alcohol problem?” If Wallen went on to answer that question, “GMA” did not include it in the show’s edit.
Wallen appeared after Aldean, already on stage with Bryan and Hubbard (of Florida Georgia Line), teased, “A really good friend of mine is here backstage tonight. I don’t know if you know this.” “Do I need another tequila shot to get through this?” joked Bryan.
For his second and concluding number, Wallen sang “Whiskey Glasses,” then he remained on-stage for Aldean’s “She’s Country.”
Although the response among Bryan’s audience in the Bridgestone could hardly have seemed more unanimous, reaction on social media was predictably divided between fans who think Wallen has already suffered too long a time in the penalty box and those who think he still hasn’t addressed the issues that came to light with the February controversy.
The “GMA” statement that seemed to have caused more harm than good in furthering Wallen’s return to widescale public trust came when he responded to Strahan’s question about whether, six months into the pause on his career, he has come to believe country music has a race problem. Wallen answered, “It would seem that way, yeah. I haven’t really sat and thought about that.”
Wallen’s explanation to “GMA” for why he used the slur that got him into trouble boiled down to making use of the word “playfully” and “ignorantly” among friends who “say dumb stuff together.” The singer told the morning show he had met with Black leaders in recent months and had donated $500,000 to Black charities, including the Black Music Action Coalition.
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