June 18, 2024

Tailgate N' Tallboys - Bloomington, IL - 6.14.24 (Recap)

By Adam Lucas


You never know when a picture could mean everything. 

Or a melody might be exactly the memory that’s needed.

The kindness in the pit at Eric Church concerts has become part of the identity of the Church Choir, Church shows, and the artist himself. He treats his fans well—acknowledging meaningful shirts and signs, taking the occasional picture, signing the occasional vinyl or pair of boots—and they reciprocate by making the environment more friendly than normal. Fans on the front row frequently slide over to make room for younger fans so the kids can see better. New friends are made. Strangers belt out their favorite lyrics together.

The pit can occasionally be an ugly place at shows by other artists. And this summer, with Church playing festivals in front of fans of numerous other artists, it was reasonable to wonder how much of a normal Church crowd would translate.

For at least one longtime Choir member, the answer came Friday night at Tailgates N’ Tallboys in Bloomington, Illinois. 

Kristin Swenson now has a picture to prove it, and the picture is about much more than just her 16th Church show. For the rest of the crowd, the performance was about seeing where Church’s musical evolution might take him next. There was a little bit of the Outsiders Revival Tour, with the occasional use of horns and the familiar set of background vocals. But he’s also played 19 residency shows at Chief’s, a very different format, since that tour.

So it was fair to wonder what might be different this time. Church answered with a loaded set list. These Boots, for example, was on the opening night of Outsiders Revival but then appeared only twice more on the tour. He played it on Friday night, along with a few other songs—How Bout You and Talladega, for example—that made only sporadic appearances last summer.

For Kristin, though, the night was perfect as soon as Church hit the opening notes of The Outsiders for his first song. She was there with her son, Evan, and the two were celebrating his 20th birthday. Sinners Like Me came out when he was just a toddler, and the entire Church catalog has been a soundtrack for the family ever since. At Kristin’s wedding five years ago, there was only one choice for the mother-son dance song: Like Jesus Does.

They’ve lived these songs. But sometimes life happens, too. The details aren’t important because they’re in the past, but Kristin and Evan endured over a year of not seeing each other. Being a teenager is hard. Being a teenager’s mom is hard. Perhaps you can relate. Kristin stopped listening to Eric Church music because the memories were too painful.

Watching them in the pit on Friday night—Evan’s first Eric Church show in the pit—it looked easy. But getting to that moment had been incredibly difficult, and had required both of them to make some compromises. All of which brought them to Bloomington, where, “We shouted every single word to every single song together,” Kristin said.

Unprompted, a nearby Choir member observed their joy and offered to take a picture of the duo on a night Kristin described as “one of the most important nights of my life.” She has seen her favorite artist everywhere at big-name venues from the Opry to Stagecoach. But it’s a show in Bloomington that now forever holds the key spot in her concert history. Because of the kindness of a fellow fan who had no idea of the circumstances, now she has a permanent memory of it.


Sometimes these two hours we spend together at Church are about forgetting everything that’s happened. Sometimes they’re about remembering.


This one was a little different.


“This one,” Kristin said, “was a night of healing.”