October 01, 2023

The Outsiders Revival Tour - Tampa, FL 9.30.23 (Final Night of the Tour)

By Adam Lucas


TAMPA—There’s a flaw in an Eric Church song. It doesn’t happen often, but we’ll talk through it together.


After just over three months, the Outsiders Revival Tour ended Saturday night in Tampa. The conclusion was just as much fun as every night that preceded it.


Six hours before Church took the stage, his band went through sound check. He hadn’t yet arrived to work through a pair of duets with Maggie Rose (they performed “Mixed Drinks About Feelings” and “That’s Damn Rock & Roll”), so there was some free time. Suddenly, with audio playback provided from the sound board, the entire 12-piece group was ripping through “Heart on Fire”—except with everyone in a different spot. Guitarist Jeff Cease was pretending to play the trombone. April Rucker was on drums. Whitney Coleman played a very authentic looking bass. Roy Agee moved to the front right of the stage, where he shredded a guitar. It was like a Milli Vanilli concert with much better music.


They looked delighted with the swapping of roles, like some School of Rock grade school kids playing their first gig. The funniest part, however, was that as all this chaos took place on the stage, there was the straight-faced Jeff Hyde…being the exact same Jeff Hyde. He could have been playing “Springsteen” in front of 20,000 people or been part of a mishmash sound check on the last day of a tour. It was impossible to tell by his expression, which is exactly what makes him who he is.


“If it looks like we’re having a shit-ton of fun up here, it’s because we are,” Church told the crowd on Saturday night. He then proceeded to demonstrate exactly how to have that fun by pretending to grab on to bassist Lee Hendricks during “The Outsiders,” because Hendricks had taken a tumble during the same song on Friday night in West Palm Beach.


After 35 shows, I’m going to miss the songs. How am I supposed to go back to a life where 20,000 people don’t belt out, “Give meeeeeee baaaaaaaack my hometown” every Friday and Saturday night? I was lucky enough to do this tour with my wife. Every single time I’m the first to reach for her hand—just like “Some Of It” says—I’m going to think back to these 35 nights. 


Those are the big moments, the ones that stick with you. But I’m also going to miss the little slivers, like Cease taking out his on-stage ears so he can hear the crowd sing back the words to “Springsteen.” He’s been playing that song for almost 15 years. And there is still no substitute for that response.  


It is considered cool for fans to know some of the non-band personnel on the Church tour. Guitar tech MJ Sagraves sometimes gets a shout when he swaps guitars with Church. Hardcore fans might know stage manager Sambo Coats.


Here is the secret no one realizes: every single person on the crew is someone you’d be lucky to call your friend. Are they a little crazy? Yes. But they’re the fun kind of crazy, and the kind of friend who would drop what they’re doing to come help you, no questions asked.


Last week in Charlotte during sound check, Cease looked over. “You want to sing the vocals on ‘Livin’ Part of Life’?” he asked.


First: do you know how many times I’ve sung the vocals on that song in my car with the windows rolled up?


Second: no, I absolutely do not want to even hum a couple of bars in front of some of the most talented musicians in the world.


But that’s this group, determined not to make a big deal out of what they do. Before Rose walked on stage Saturday night, there was Church’s wife, Katherine, mixing her a drink. She didn’t have to do that. Virtually no one else on the planet would do that. But she treats everyone with their feet on the stage as though they are in her den. 


The authenticity and genuineness of the crew starts with the two people in charge. The details here are unimportant, but the boss spent part of Saturday afternoon handing out such generous bonuses to crew members that some were left in tears. This stuff matters. It is fun every time you buy a ticket. But it is life—and a livelihood—to the people who somehow manage to make it all happen.


“It starts at the top,” says Coleman. “Little things like Eric taking the time to learn everyone’s name.”


Stephcynie Curry leans over. “Properly,” she says. “He took the time to learn everyone’s name properly.” When your name is Stephcynie, you see, this is a detail that matters. 


It has not been as easy as Church makes it look. Life on the road can be hard. Life on the road raising a family can be excruciating. The world thinks they know you based on what they see on stage, but things also happen off stage. No one wants to hear about those things, though, because they came to hear “Drink In My Hand.” It is great, undeniably great to be Eric Church. But it is not easy. Over 625,000 people bought a ticket to this tour. He was responsible for every one of them.


Don’t misunderstand—this is not just some bunch of ragamuffins goofing around. They know how to do this job at the very highest level. The very first night of the tour, way back in Milwaukee, Church’s manager, John Peets, noticed something on the stage. He mentioned that during “Smoke a Little Smoke,” it might be more engaging to allow the vocalists and horn section more room to roam the stage. That segment of the show quickly became a highlight. 


Those details are what have made these nights epic. Church didn’t want to leave the stage on Saturday in front of a jam-packed crowd. There was a hard curfew of 11:15 that he sailed past, breezing through the setlist and then freestyling at the end, beginning a medley of a couple hits that turned into a five-song acoustic set that went past 11:30 and included “Love Your Love the Most,” “Carolina,” “These Boots,” “Sinners Like Me,” and “Those I’ve Loved.”


How unpredictable is he? No one had any clue what he was doing. On the side of the stage, Coats was taking guesses about how many songs Chief might perform. 


One he didn’t do was “On the Road,” the new song he wrote during the course of Outsiders Revival. It is that specific song that contains an error.


The last verse goes like this:


“Livin’ my dreams I wrote


“On the road I’ve come far


“Rode in a thousand towns writing on my guitar


“On the road they say never ends


“I know one day I’d do anything to do it all again.”


And this is where he’s wrong. 29 cities, 35 different shows, over a half-million people who walked through the doors. Seven dozen crew members and one headliner spending three months completely committed to ensuring every one of those fans had the night of their lives.


The Outsiders Revival Tour is over. And it isn’t “one day” that I’d give anything to do it all again. 


It’s today, right now. 


And he knows it.


“Usually when you get to the end of a tour, you’re pretty peeled back,” Church said on Saturday afternoon. “I call it being road blind. But I’m sad to see this one end. I haven’t had that very many times. Usually you get sad later. But I’m sad today. And that’s when you know you had something special.”