September 11, 2023

The Outsiders Revival Tour - The Gorge 9.10.23 (Night 2)

By Adam Lucas


THE GORGE—You can find almost anything in the work cases that surround a typical stage on show night at the Outsiders Revival Tour.


Literally anything. These are the cases that hold the tools of a crew member’s job and then get loaded into the giant trucks after every show. Imagine if you had to pack your entire job into a suitcase. That’s what is held in these cases, some of which can even carry incredibly cool custom details (ask Sambo about his Jordan case).


So you might find a project a crew member is working on as an anniversary gift for their wife back home (the item and the crew member kept secret to preserve the surprise). You might find stickers from the dozens or hundreds of stops they’ve made while living the tour life. You might find, uh, well you might find some other provisions.


On Sunday afternoon, though, there was something unusual in the corner of MJ Sagraves’ case. He had all his usual items that help him in his role as Eric Church’s ace guitar tuner, a position he has held for well over a decade. You know the guy who brings out a fresh guitar to Church before nearly every song? That’s MJ.


And if you happened to walk by his case on Sunday afternoon at The Gorge, you might have spotted something extremely curious in the upper right corner of his case: a very familiar looking pair of Ray-Ban aviators. 


That was the first clue that Sunday night wasn’t going to be a normal show. Church has tremendous respect for The Gorge. At heart, he’s not that different from the hundreds of fans who have traipsed to the top of the lawn each night on Saturday and Sunday—not because they were planning to sit there the entire night but because they wanted to take a photo that captured the entire breathtaking scene. “Our actual seats are on row 16,” one fan explained, “but we really wanted to sit up here while the sun was setting.”


On the second night of a Gorge Double Down, Church wanted to pay his respects to the venue, and also to the fans who committed to traveling from far and wide to a difficult destination (the Gorge’s official slogan is “Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everything”). So he came up with a completely different show than the one a packed crowd had watched here on Saturday night—and completely different than any Eric Church show anyone has seen before.


“I’ve never done this before,” he said an hour before showtime on Sunday. “This seemed like the right setting. And it’s on a Sunday, too.”


He paused for just a second. “Then again, it could be a disaster.”


And that, folks, is life on the road with Eric Church. The confidence to try something completely new in front of tens of thousands of people in a treasured venue…I know that one day they’ll write on his stone that he lived, loved and died holdin’ his own. But it should also say he wasn’t afraid to try it, even if whatever “it” might be didn’t come with any guarantees. 


When he walked onto the stage shortly after 9 p.m. local time—starting the night with “Mr. Misunderstood,” a sure sign that something was different on this evening—his first spoken words to the crowd were as follows:


“I said last night this was one of the most special places I’ve played and promised it would be a special show. And tonight, for the first and only time ever, we’re going to play the two biggest records we’ve ever had, in order, front to back.”


And here’s the other factor: you can’t pull it off, no matter how much of a risk taker you are, unless the songs are good. As soon as Church told the crowd that he’d be playing the full Mr. Misunderstood and Chief albums, you could see them processing which songs that meant they’d be hearing. They were rewarded with several favorites, a few rarities, and special collaborations with Hailey Whitters on “Mixed Drinks About Feelings” and “Over When It’s Over” and Jelly Roll on “Homeboy.” The night, in other words, had everything.


It required some on-the-fly adjustments from a typical Outsiders Revival Tour evening. The state flag, usually hung as part of the incredible opening sequence, was pre-hung (side note: who knew that Washington has an actual portrait of George Washington on its state flag?). The three-man horns section sat side stage for the first two songs, then joined the group for the third song of the night, “Chattanooga Lucy”). 


Even Eric Church, the master of tweaking a set list, can’t change the track list on albums that came out in 2009 and 2015.


There was a bigger surprise awaiting after all ten tracks of Mr. Misunderstood were finished, culminating with “Three Year Old” for the first time live since February of 2019. With the lights down, Church walked off the side of the stage, where a clothing change awaited. He put on those aviators that had been tucked in MJ’s case. And then he put on the trademark Von Dutch hat that is perhaps the most iconic piece of Church memorabilia that exists. Held together with some well-placed tape on the back, it had been riding around in the back of his tour bus.


“This is the hat,” he told the crowd. “It’s not been on my head in ten years.”


The transformation was immediate and it was complete. It quickly took you back to wherever and however you listened to that Chief album in 2009, and fans weren’t the only one doing a doubletake.


“It was like a time machine,” Church said. “When I put it on my head, even the band was looking at me like, ‘I remember this shit.’”


And this Sunday night crowd was one that did remember, and that was willing to remember. This format might not have worked on a Friday or a Saturday. But on a Sunday, especially at The Gorge—where anyone who was in the crowd had very intentionally planned to be here and was looking at either a late-night drive or missing work on Monday—the crowd was appreciative and loud. There weren’t many first-timers in this bunch, which meant they were perfectly receptive to the idea of Church performing in a way he’d never done before.


“This has been a long journey,” Church said. “It has been the pleasure of my life to share the stage with these guys and girls for all these years. We’ve been talking about doing what we did tonight for a long time. I’m glad we did it here. You got to hear something no one else will ever hear.”