August 26, 2023
The Outsiders Revival Tour - Holmdel, NJ 8.25.23
By Adam Lucas
HOLMDEL, N.J.—I have seen people hold conversations at an Eric Church concert during the Outsiders Revival tour.
I do not endorse this practice. But I have seen it happen on rare occasions.
Let us be clear, then, about the situation on Friday night in Holmdel. From the moment Whiskey Myers stepped on stage at 7:30 p.m. until the moment Church walked off the stage at—uh, not quite the stated curfew time of 11 p.m.—there were no conversations held.
It was impossible. The PNC Bank Arts Center (locals will know it forever as the Garden State Arts Center) opened in 1968, when the understanding of best construction policies to enhance acoustics was a little less than it is now.
For that reason, Church’s crack sound crew spent most of Friday morning—after driving all night from Saratoga Springs—figuring out the best way to manage the unusual concrete roof that covers thousands of seats in the venue. That same roof holds the sound firmly underneath, making it seem noticeably louder than any other venue so far on this tour. The decibel meter proved it: it wasn’t actually louder on Friday night. But it sure felt like it.
If you’re a sound technician, it’s not ideal. But if you’re a fan or a performer, it’s kind of energizing. Part of the fun of Outsiders Revival has been seeing the different amphitheaters that Church is playing for the first time. This place clearly had history. The evening started with a recording of the national anthem (it’s in the venue contract dating back to a tiff with Sinead O’Connor all the way back in 1990, when Church was 13 years old). Another prominent musician with significant North Carolina ties, James Taylor, has played the venue dozens of times.
It was a little like playing a basketball game at the Palestra, just an hour and 15 minutes down the road in Philadelphia. Sure, there might be some quirks. But there was also undeniable local history.
This was completely and undoubtedly a Jersey show. In the same way that the Seger medley could have only happened in Detroit and the hogs could have only been called in Arkansas, this was a Jersey show. You knew it as soon as the final notes of the evening’s opener, “Chattanooga Lucy,” faded from earshot…only to be replaced with the loud, rolling sounds of “Chieeeeeeeeffffff” from the crowd, held in by the roof and more baritone and longer-lasting than any other stop on the tour.
At first, it was a little worrisome that there was no pit. That’s the area of the crowd that often sets the tone for the rest of the fans. In this case, though, no pit was needed. Over 17,000 fans came out not just to see Eric Church, but to see Eric Church in Jersey. A kid sat on his dad’s shoulders, pumping his arms furiously (teach ‘em young, New Jersey) during “Country Music Jesus.” A little further back, a man asked a stranger to hold his phone during “Hell of a View.” He was FaceTiming his girlfriend in Chicago and wanted to be able to put his full attention into lip syncing (flawlessly) and dancing (perhaps just shy of flawlessly) to the song.
Sometimes—for example, last weekend in Orange Beach—you get the impression that a sizable portion of the crowd is out-of-towners who have come into town for the show. Not on Friday night. This was a Jersey crowd at a Jersey show, which made it very fitting that guitarist Jeff Cease wore a WFMU shirt on stage, a tribute to the iconic local radio station in Jersey City.
The transplant to New Jersey was so complete that even when Church played an unreleased song, “On the Road,” he tweaked the words to make it feel a little more at home. The added line, “I’ve played New York City with the Boss,” elicited the predictable roar of response.
That led into another one that should be added to the must-have list. In the same way that you need to see “Talladega” performed in Alabama and “Carolina” performed in North Carolina, “Springsteen” in New Jersey fits perfectly and gets a little louder than anywhere else.
When it was over, the cheers cascaded over the venerable old building. “Jersey, baby!” Church said on the stage. The crowd answered him just as they had done all night, just as might still be echoing off that old concrete roof.