Ernest’s Stadium Gig With Morgan Wallen Was a ‘Dream,’ Both as an Artist and a Friend
What's better than playing a stadium show to more than 50,000 captivated fans? Splitting the bill with one of your best friends, of course.
Speaking to Taste of Country on the red carpet of the 2022 BMI Awards in Nashville, Ernest re-lived the experience of being the opening act for Morgan Wallen's first-ever headlining stadium show, which took place at Arlington, Texas' Globe Life Field in October. The show served as the conclusion to Wallen's Dangerous Tour, and it set a venue attendance record.
"As an artist, [it was a] dream scenario to get to do direct support for the biggest artist in the world at a massive stadium," Ernest says. Originally billed as the first of three acts for that show, the singer-songwriter moved up to the direct support slot after Hardy was forced to sit out his set as he recovered from injuries he sustained in a tour bus crash.
But the career opportunity that came along with the stadium show — as momentous as it was — was secondary to the special experience of watching his close friend shine on the stage, Ernest continues. He and Wallen are longtime friends, frequent tourmates, co-writers and duet partners on the Ernest-led "Flower Shops," and Ernest says that he's watched his superstar pal navigate a difficult and painful growth process over the past couple of years, too.
"As a friend, [it was a] dream scenario to get to watch your friend fill 55,000 seats, and they sing every word to every song," he continues. "I get chills thinking about it. Standing side-stage watching it, with everything he's gone through and all the growth he's gone through — man, getting to come do that was amazing."
Prior to embarking on his Dangerous Tour, Wallen stayed quiet for most of 2021 after video footage emerged showing him yelling the N-word as he drunkenly bid goodnight to a car full of friends after a long night out. He was swiftly benched by much of the music industry: Radio stations removed him from playlists, his likeness and music was removed from some platforms such as CMT and his label placed his contract on hiatus. To this day, Wallen's interview appearances have been sparse, with the notable exception of a mea culpa Good Morning America appearance that addressed the scandal. He fulfilled — not without complication — a $500,000 pledge to Black-led organizations, and ultimately returned to the spotlight, both embarking on his Dangerous Tour and securing multiple No. 1 country radio hits in 2022.
Throughout the scandal, Wallen's support from his fanbase never waned — in several respects, it intensified — and many of his fellow artists have spoken publicly about the incident, both to condemn his actions and to encourage forgiveness. Ernest is among those who has stuck by his superstar friend: In early 2022, Wallen made a surprise appearance at Ernest's Grand Ole Opry debut; it was Wallen's first Opry appearance since the scandal broke.
As Ernest applauds Wallen's career moves, he's also working hard on his own. The singer says he's got plans to drop some new music before the year ends, and hints that he might even have a full-length collection in the works for early 2023.
"Management probably don't want me to say, but I've recorded, like, 13 more songs, and I'm gonna put a couple of them out at the end of the year," he says with a grin. "[And] put the new project out [at the] top of the year. So, run with that."