White's performance came just days after the death of music icon Eddie Van Halen, whom the 45-year-old musician paid tribute to on stage. Van Halen died on Tuesday after a long battle with cancer. He was 65.
"I thought it could be a nice gesture for me to use this blue eddie van halen model guitar for one of the songs tonight on SNL," White wrote on Instagram on Saturday. "The guitar was designed by eddie (with a few customizations i had added). eddie was very kind to me and saw to it that this guitar was made for me to my specs."
"i wont even insult the man’s talent by trying to play one of his songs tonight. thanks again eddie for this guitar and rest in peace sir," he added.
For his first performance, the rocker, decked out in a black leather jacket, performed an incredibly powerful and unsettlingly timely tune that evoked the coronavirus pandemic and the fears felt by many during these uncertain times.
White belted out a roaring cover of the 1928 blues classic "Jesus is Coming Soon," originally performed by blues artist Blind Willie Johnson, and written about the 1918 Spanish Flu.
"The noble said to the people/close your public schools/ until death passes you by you better close all your churches too/ I'm done talkin. Yes I'm walkin'/ God is coming soon," White sang. "The great disease was mighty and people were sick everywhere/ It was an epidemic and it traveled through the air."
White also incorporated elements of his collaboration with Beyonce, "Don't Hurt Yourself" -- which appeared on Lemonade -- singing in the chorus: "When you hurt me, you hurt yourself/ Don't hurt yourself/ When you love me, you love yourself."
For White's second set of the night, which essentially closed out the show, he delivered a high-energy performance of his single, "Lazaretto," off his second solo album of the same name from 2014.
"I got a call from the show to let me know I'd no longer be able to play," Wallen said. "[It's] due to COVID protocols, which I understand."
The singer said he respected the show's decision because, "I know that I put them in jeopardy, and I take ownership of this."
"I apologize to SNL, to my fans, to my team, for bringing me these opportunities, and I let them down," a somber Wallen shared.
"Lorne Michaels actually gave me a lot of encouragement and let me know, 'We’ll find another time to make this up,'" he added, referring to SNL's longtime executive producer. "So that means a lot to me."
"He probably isn't the first country singer, the first person from rock n' roll who partied after a big game, in that case, a football game or a concert," Michaels said. "We're just living in different times and everything is scrutinized."
Check out the video below to hear more.
SNL airs live, coast-to-coast, on Saturdays at 11:30 p.m. ET, 8:30 p.m. PT on NBC.