Lee Brice Opens Up About Las Vegas Tragedy: 'The Thought of That Breaks My Heart' (Exclusive)
Mindy Small/FilmMagic

You could have forgiven Lee Brice if he had canceled his concert in Los Angeles.

In fact, many of his fans at The Novo by Microsoft theater on Thursday night admitted they weren’t sure the show was going to happen, at least not this week.

After all, it had only been five days since not just the country music world, but the entire nation, was shaken to its core after a gunman opened fire on the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, killing at least 58 people and injuring 515 more in the worst mass shooting in modern American history.

When ET spoke with Brice on his tour bus just a few of hours before he took the stage in front of a sold-out crowd, the “Boy” singer touched upon not only how difficult this week has been, but the fears ruminating within the country music community.

Though he wasn’t in Vegas on Sunday, Brice and his team had played the Route 91 Harvest Festival two nights earlier. Since then, he’s done a few interviews as he gears up to release his fourth studio album on Nov. 3, so he’s been processing the tragedy nearly endlessly, admitting that it’s “kind of been taxing on my heart and my head.”

“It continues to make me think about the fans that were there and the fear and just the moment they were in, and that just breaks my heart. And not just them, but some of my buddies -- Jake [Owen] and Jason [Aldean], they were right there,” he told ET. “I didn't even know Chris Young was right there, and he was actually on the other side of the stage where the fire was coming through and from to get to everyone else. Just the thought of that breaks my heart.”

“Then number two, my bus was parked exactly where Aldean's was parked, and my crew was standing around that stage exactly where all his crew members were and out in front,” he continued. “It could have been us on Friday, it could have been them on Saturday, it could have been [at any time] on Sunday, and it's just scary to think about that.”

But it’s times like these that it’s more important than ever for the show to go on, and that’s why Brice was still taking the stage in L.A. later that night.

“Some people say, ‘Well, I know it's scary to think about that, but it could happen at any concert. Is it going to deter country music artists? Is it going to deter country music fans?’ And I just really don't think it is,” he said. “You might go to a big festival and you might say, ‘This is a rowdy crowd!’ There might be fights out there because they're rednecks, but when it comes to something like that, they fight together and they're not afraid.”

“You don't back them into a corner. Because if they do, there's no winning that battle,” he added. “I have -- it's not even faith -- I know them because I am them. I was them, I am them.”

Once Brice took the stage just shy of 10 p.m., Vegas was never an elephant in the room. While it was not the main focus, he never shied away from alluding to the events or stating how proud he was of country music, both his artist brethren and the fans, for coming together after Sunday’s tragedies and growing stronger.

In fact, the 38-year-old singer-songwriter was introduced to the stage with a member of Go Country 105, Los Angeles and Orange County’s local country music station, coming out with Britt Webb, who had been in the audience when the shooting began during Aldean’s set. They even started a call-and-answer with the audience, asking if we were afraid to come to venues after Sunday’s violence. The response? A resounding yell of “hell no’s.”

He referenced the strength of country music fans a couple of times towards the beginning of his set, but it was about two-thirds of the way through his performance when he began speaking about the military, police officers, firefighters and EMTs who give their lives, as well as nurses and teachers who “protect and serve us every day,” that it was clear he was about to dedicate “I Drive Your Truck" -- one of his biggest hits and perhaps his most heartbreaking single about a family member lost in combat -- to victims of the massacre.

“I grew up working and going to shows and doing and wanting and loving everything [country artists] do, and so I know that one person trying to instill evil and hate into our world is not going to stop us from doing what we love and what we deserve and what we live for,” he told the crowd. “So, I want to say thank you to all the first responders, everybody who protects and serves us and their family who understand that they sacrifice on a daily basis.”

Brice then asked for a moment of silence, after which he invited the audience to hold up their phone lights to remember the victims and to send love to everyone who protects and serves.

It was a fitting song to dedicate to the victims of Las Vegas, as the sea of lights could attest. It was nearly impossible to not tear up when hearing the song, and Brice himself got visibly choked up as he launched into the song. As if that weren’t enough, the lights dimmed on the South Carolina native crooning the tune's finals words, “I hope you don’t mind, I drive your truck,” as an American flag glowed brightly on the big screen behind him.

The set was not all doom and gloom, however. Brice was visibly happy to be there, smiling wide throughout his songs, pausing to proudly take in the crowd singing his hits back to him, and even getting goofy miming during “Crazy Girl,” a song he wrote but was recorded by the Eli Young Band. He kicked his set off with “Hard to Love,” brought down the house during “Drinking Class,” a heartfelt ode to working your butt off 9 to 5, and made couples tear up as his wedding video played during “I Don’t Dance.”

Watching Brice bounce around onstage as his fans danced and sang at the top of their lungs, especially during “Drinking Class,” just reiterated what he had said on the tour bus earlier that day.

“We're not going to let something like that, hate like that, evil like that, take away the joy of what us country folk love,” he told ET of the shooting. “We love to go work hard and have a cold beer at the end of the week and listen to some country music. That's what we love.”

And that’s exactly what happened at his concert. The beer flowed as music played, but no one forgot about the horrific events just a few days ago. The night was full of grace and humility, tears and joy.

This is what country music is about.