Bryan headlined Nashville's Bridgestone Arena Friday night, and in a surprise for the audience — and possibly for Bryan himself — Wallen appeared about halfway through his set. Bryan had just welcomed unannounced guests, fellow country stars Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line's Tyler Hubbard, to the spotlight when Aldean said, "a really good friend of mine is backstage."
"I don't know if you know this," Aldean, 44, then told Bryan.
The American Idol judge, 45, said he didn't know who was backstage and asked if he needed another shot of tequila to get through it.
Ethan Helms Luke Bryan
That's when Wallen, 28, strolled down the catwalk to ear-splitting applause from the sold-out crowd. The four men clinked plastic shot glasses and gulped back the alcohol before Bryan, Aldean, and Hubbard, 34, sat down to give Wallen the spotlight. The moment was Wallen's most significant return to any stage since he was caught on video drunk and using a racial slur in February.
"Hello, Nashville; how you all doing tonight?" Wallen asked the audience. "I don't even know what song to play. This is a song about staying true to yourself, and that's been a really hard thing for me to do lately. But, here I am."
Ethan Helms Tyler Hubbard, Morgan Wallen, Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan
Wallen, his ballcap turned backward and his acoustic guitar hanging at his waist, strummed through his No. 1 hit "More Than My Hometown" as fans sang along. He followed up with "Whiskey Glasses," then the four sang Aldean's 2009 hit "She's Country" before giving the stage back to Bryan.
"Up next, Elvis Presley," Bryan quipped. "I've never had more fun in my life."
Amid the fallout from his use of the N-word, Wallen's record label suspended his contract. He was removed from radio airplay, dropped by his agency, and disqualified from the 2021 Academy of Country Music Awards. Wallen apologized, saying: "I used an unacceptable and inappropriate racial slur that I wish I could take back. There are no excuses to use this type of language, ever. I want to sincerely apologize for using the word. I promise to do better."
Wallen, one of country music's biggest stars at the time, disappeared from the scene following the controversy. Last week, he told GMA's Michael Strahan that he checked into a rehabilitation center after the incident.
"For 30 days, I spent some time out in San Diego, California, you know, just trying to figure it out ... Why am I acting this way? Do I have an alcohol problem?" he explained. "Do I have a deeper issue?"
Of the video obtained by TMZ, Wallen said he and his friends "say dumb stuff together" and "in our minds, it's playful. That sounds ignorant, but that's really where it came from, and it's wrong." Wallen also clarified he was "clearly drunk."
Ethan Helms Caylee Hammack, Luke Bryan and Dylan Scott
While his interview with Strahan was viewed as too little too late by some, his rousing reception from country music fans on Friday night indicates many of them are ready to move on with him.
"Thank you @lukebryan for having me out last night brother," Wallen wrote on social media Saturday. "Sharing the stage with you, @jasonaldean and @tylerhubbard was one of those moments I will never forget. Thank you Nashville for welcoming me so warmly. And to the rest of my fans, we will recreate this soon."