August 19, 2023
The Outsiders Revival Tour - Orange Beach, AL 8.18.23 (Night 2)
By Adam Lucas
ORANGE BEACH, AL.—As the last notes of “Country Music Jesus” faded through the Wharf Amphitheater on Friday night, the older gentleman working security at the venue tapped me on the shoulder.
He had not been acquainted with Eric Church prior to this evening, knew nothing of Chief or Springsteen or The Outsiders (much less the Outsiders Revival). So he had a question.
“Would you call this music,” he asked, “rock or gospel?”
It was a good question. What would I call it?
“The thing about Eric Church is that he’s going to kick you in the teeth,” said Jackson Dean, who opened the night with 30 minutes of similar teeth-kicking—albeit while playing guitars that he handmade himself. “He’s going to take it straight to the crowd.”
So it is rock and roll, right? But this is also what Jackson Dean said:
“I still remember riding around in my Bronco and listening to ‘Lightning’ and just bawling my eyes out. It walks the line of ethereal and cinematic and country as shit at the same time. It opened the gate to my generation of a whole lot of real estate.”
That kind of connection sounds more like a gospel experience.
But wait a second. Earlier in the day, Church and Lainey Wilson had sound checked “Over When It’s Over.” The luckiest people in all of Orange Beach, Alabama were the eight fans who happened to walk by the gate to the Wharf Amphitheater at that exact moment. Before security shooed them away, you could almost see them trying to process…is that?...it sounds like it?...i think it might be…it is!
When they finished the run-through, Church grinned. “That,” he said, “was niiiiice.”
And what did Wilson say? “Rock and rollllllll.”
So if Lainey Wilson her own self says it, then that has to be the answer. The duo performed the song for real late in Church’s set, and on one side was a little girl screaming, “Laineyyyyyyy!” and on the other side was the familiar chant of, “Chieffffff.” It was, just like Wilson said earlier in the day, very rock and roll.
But then there was the moment during the encore when the first few notes of “Talladega” hit the air. We are nearly five hours from Talladega. It didn’t matter. You looked up in the 300 sections and people had their arms around each other and were swaying back and forth, and a few cell phone flashlights were shining, It was one of those ethereal moments, just as Dean had said.
There are certain songs you just have to hear in a certain place. You can’t really get the full feeling of “Carolina” until you hear it in North Carolina. And you never really know “Talladega” until you see it in Alabama, with a crowd that is going to scream every word of, “Til the Alabama sun was breaking.”
And where did it come from? Partially from a night very much like this.
“We were sitting on a bus in Albany, New York,” says the song’s cowriter, Luke Laird. “Eric said he’d always wanted to write a song called ‘Daytona,’ and he named a couple different races. Talladega fit. It’s not about NASCAR; it’s about the culture around the race. My inspiration for that song was going to concerts growing up.”
Which is a lovely story. But let me ask you this: how can you watch Driver Williams punctuate those key notes of “Country Music Jesus,” black matte guitar raised over his head on the word “FIRE” in the “fire on the mountain” line of the song, and not think this is rock and roll?
Before you answer definitively, go down to the pit. That’s where Holly Davidson is singing every single word of every song. It doesn’t matter which album the song comes from—she knows them all. But when Church plays “Springsteen,” sandwiched between “Talladega” and “Sinners Like Me” in the encore, tears are streaming down her face. It is so noticeable that a stranger approaches her and asks if she is OK.
Yes, she is fine. It’s just that her dad, Eugene Davidson, was supposed to accompany her to this concert. They love Eric Church and have sung along to his music for years. But Eugene was diagnosed with cancer and is fighting, and it was just too much for him to be at the Wharf on Friday night. Holly is here, though, and she is singing every darn word, and she is thinking about her daddy. He may not be here, but he is here.
That is your answer. Church had rocked for two hours. But just as he had promised at the outset, “This is going to feel like a revival, and we are professionals, and we are going to take you there.”
So was this rock, or was this gospel? That’s what the man had wanted to know.
And there was only one way to answer:
Yes, sir. That is exactly what it is.