By Chancellor Agard
April 15, 2018 at 09:20 PM EDT

The 53rd annual Academy of Country Music Awards opened with a somber tribute to the victims of last fall’s horrific shooting in Las Vegas.

Jason Aldean — who was performing at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in October when the gunshots started — began by saying that it was the first time that many country stars had been back to Vegas since the tragedy.

“We thought about starting with a song, but it’s a lot bigger than a single song,” said Aldean. “It’s everything you’ll hear tonight, the songs that bring us to our feet, make you wanna pull someone close, or just live in the moment. Nothing can take that away from us.”

He was joined onstage by fellow country singers Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris, and Thomas Rhett, who noted that while the entire show would pay tribute the victims, it would also focus on the healing power of music.

“For those of who have experienced tragedy and unexpected loss, music helps us remember what really matters in life,” said Bryan, who has experienced personal tragedy in his own life having unexpectedly lost several family members. Added Maren, “Music does so much more than provide an escape from the pain, it inspires us, it soothes us and it makes us stronger.”

Many stars in attendance also honored those affected by the mass shooting by wearing gold Vegas Strong pins that include the numbers 851, 58, and 1.

“Tonight I’m gonna wear these pins for the 851 injured, the 58 lost and the 1 life we can save in the future if we’re willing to start a conversation about things that need to be done for our children, our families and our fans,” Little Big Town member Karen Fairchild wrote on Twitter prior to the show.

On Oct. 1, a gunman killed 58 people and left hundreds more wounded when he opened fire on the crowd during Jason Aldean’s closing set at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, which was held at the Las Vegas Village, right down the strip from the MGM Grand Garden Arena, where the ACM Awards are held. Because of the proximity to the shooting’s location, the ACM considered moving this year’s ceremony out of respect for those who were there when the mass-shooting occurred or knew someone who was, but they ultimately decided not to.

“It certainly was contemplated, but no one was speaking up saying we had to move. In fact, just about the opposite happened,” ACM CEO Pete Fisher told The Washington Post. “As difficult [as] it will be for some people, everyone wanted to come back to Vegas.”

Academy of Country Music Awards

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