Granger Smith Emotionally Returns to the Stage Following the Death of His 3-Year-Old Son River

Granger Smith mouthed, "Thank You," during every lyrical break on the Country LakeShake stage in Chicago

Granger Smith stepped on the Country LakeShake stage in Chicago on Sunday, 18 days after the tragic death of his 3-year-old son River.

During a weekend that included performances from the likes of country powerhouses such as Miranda Lambert, Keith Urban and Luke Bryan, it was Smith’s set that fans were equally anticipating throughout the run of the three-day festival.

Showcasing a forearm with the new tattoo “River,” Smith, 39, hit the stage smiling, tearing into “Blue Collar Dollars” while hitting his heart and mouthing the words, “Thank you,” during every lyrical break.

Smith’s rep confirmed to PEOPLE on June 6 that River’s tragic death was due to a drowning accident at home. That same day, the country singer shared the “unthinkable” news on Twitter and Instagram, revealing “despite doctor’s best efforts, he was unable to be revived.” River was laid to rest on June 11.

Daniel DeSlover/ZUMA Wire

For his Sunday set, Smith performed a string of songs such as “You’re In It,” “Backroad Song” and covers of the Tom Petty classic “Free Fallin’” and Alabama’s “I’m in a Hurry (And Don’t Know Why.)” Smith also threw guitar picks into the crowd and took selfies with his fans.

But then, as quick as he had amped them up, Smith brought things to a quieter tone, grabbing a stool and taking it to the end of the stage. “I love this show and I love you guys for being here,” he told the crowd. He then gazed up into the sky, and started to sing the somber “Heaven Bound Balloons.”

At the end of the song, Granger quickly walked off stage, off to the side where he could be seen standing with someone who quickly put his arm around him.

“Chicago, you ready to take this to the next level?” Smith would later yell on stage. The rest of the show was quintessential, high-energy Smith, performing songs like “City Boy Stuck,” “Happens Like That,” and a surprise collaboration with Mitchell Tenpenny on “If the Boot Fits.” Smith’s alter-ego, Earl Dibbles Jr., even made an appearance for the set-ending “The Country Boy Song.”

Granger Smith son River
Granger Smith and son River. Courtesy Smith Family

And before autographing his Dibbles-inspired white tank top, whipping it into the audience and exiting the stage that had essentially become a haven from the past two painful weeks, Smith glanced one more time into the audience, his eyes glistening in the Chicago nighttime.

On Tuesday, Smith and his family will visit the Dell Children’s Medical Center in Texas, where River was treated, to present a donation in the toddler’s honor. Supporters close to the country star launched a fundraiser to donate funds to the Dell Children’s Medical Center through sales of a special T-shirt which was created through Smith’s Yee Yee apparel line as a tribute.

At the time the Smiths announced the death of their child, they requested that those willing to give could “please send donations to Dell Children’s Medical Center in River’s name. The doctors, nurses and staff have been incredible.”

Before Granger hit the stage on Sunday, his wife Amber shared a loving message to River on Instagram after their family visited a museum in Chicago.

“Getting back on the road and back into daily life without River has not been easy in the slightest,” she said.

“Every single thing reminds me of him, and all I can think about is how he would love exploring and seeing all that we are seeing. I see his name everywhere, I see little red-headed toddlers everywhere. I miss his silly personality and his bright light,” Amber continued. “I see his face in our other kiddos. I have this pit in my stomach constantly because I’m trying to make life as normal as possible for our other 2 incredible kiddos, London and Lincoln, while hurting so bad inside.”

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