September 30, 2023
The Outsiders Revival Tour - West Palm Beach, FL 9.29.23
By Adam Lucas
WEST PALM BEACH—Around the time Eric Church was barreling across the Everglades in the back of a stranger’s car he’d just met an hour earlier, James and Emma Padgett had already secured their poster for Friday night’s concert and were standing in the front of the pit at iTHINK Financial Amphitheatre.
Relative to the journey Church was taking to headline that same venue, securing the poster had been fairly simple. The Padgetts, who traveled from Columbia, have a poster from all eight Church shows they’ve seen. James is in the printing business, so in many ways he’s the toughest customer—but also the ideal customer. The merch stand is their very first stop at every show.
“You can tell how much effort they put into it,” he says. “It really is a custom print. And there’s always something about the place where you are.”
When Chief Merchandise director Matt Wheeler started, the posters were a VIP giveaway that came with the purchase of a ticket package. Recipients often had no idea exactly what they were getting or what kind of value they might have. Wheeler made a change for the Holdin My Own tour in 2017, overseeing the creation of individual posters for every date on the tour. Their creativity and limited nature quickly made them extremely popular, and the posters have gone through various iterations over subsequent tours.
For Outsiders Revival, Wheeler and Solid Entertainment president Marshall Alexander decided to streamline the availability. Instead of multiple versions, there is only one edition of each show poster (including one for West Palm Beach on Friday night and one for Tampa on Saturday). They use a formula based on ticket sales to determine how many will be printed, and—as with Charlotte last weekend—after being available at the early merch tent outside the gates, they sometimes sell out as soon as gates open at the venue. The steady rain that fell before and during Friday’s show is one of the only things that can hold down poster sales, as buyers are hesitant to try and keep them dry for the entire show.
For this summer’s tour, Wheeler and Alexander wanted the posters to have a connecting thread, and created the decoder on the back of each poster. Numbers can be found in the artwork of each print, and when they’re connected they will form a Church-related riddle (see the @ChiefMerchandise Instagram story for the visual). It’s just another way to try to ensure fans are always getting something new. The only certainty about whatever is created for whenever the next tour might be is that it will be something different.
Ultimately, though, the posters are about the art.
“The ongoing challenge for an artist is you have your own ideas, but you don’t want to replicate something someone else has done or draw it too similarly,” says Chris Gray, an owner and artist at Half Hazard Press, which has done numerous Church posters. “The great thing about Matt is he’s very in tune with his target audience. And the entire Chief Merch brand is super conscious about making sure things are made with quality. So if we’re looking for some direction, it’s not unusual to go to Matt and bounce some ideas off him.”
As the Padgetts said, the very best posters have some element—not necessarily an obvious element, but a subtle element—of that specific show, venue and place. If Friday night’s artwork was redrawn after the concert, it might have depicted Church in a race car. A combination of factors, including some family commitments and the heavy storms swirling around West Palm Beach, conspired to delay his arrival into West Palm Beach until the last possible minute. Was the driver who brought him across the Everglades a licensed car service? Well, probably. Hey, what can I say? He was just a desperate man.
On the first show of this tour, in Milwaukee, Church talked about taking the opportunity to walk around the empty amphitheater the night before the concert. On the penultimate show of this tour, he barely had time to locate the route from his dressing room to the stage. He was on site for less than 25 minutes before the first notes of “Chattanooga Lucy” rolled across the packed crowd, and the vast majority of that time was used for meet and greet with Church Choir members.
Once he hit the stage, though, there were zero signs of the rest of the night’s hurdles. West Palm Beach was rewarded for sticking out the nasty weather, including a jam-packed lawn that was a muddy mess before opener Whiskey Myers ever played a song. Behind the scenes, this might be remembered as one of those nights, with challenging logistics and weird weather and even an unexpected stage-diving bassist.
In the seats, though, it was another raucous night on the Outsiders Revival Tour, which is almost at an end. It will take with it one of the more unique parts of the summer; Church told the West Palm Beach crowd he won’t be playing the additional verse to “Springsteen” after Saturday night’s tour finale in Tampa. It just fits too perfectly with this 35-night journey through the nation’s amphitheaters and wouldn’t be the same anywhere else.
As has been the custom, “Springsteen” was part of Friday night’s encore. Church completely altered the set list and chose on the spur of the moment to pair it with “Through My Ray-Bans,” having spotted a sign midway back in the crowd requesting it.
He did it differently this time—just Church, a guitar, and a spotlight. Three months ago, Marshall Alexander had said, “Every night of this tour is going to have a moment.” Thirty-four straight shows, he’s been correct. This was Friday night’s moment. Because standing on the side of the stage, looking out at the crowd, seeing them the way Church does, something became very clear: that really is the way they look through his Ray-Bans.
They really do have their arms around everybody else’s shoulders. They really do come together like an army of Friday night soldiers. They’ve got a drink in their hands, and the world outside does completely disappear. Everything that matters is right there, in those seats, on that lawn, on that stage.
It was, quite simply, a moment. That’s what the Padgetts were hanging up with their poster—the chance to look at their wall and remember this night in this place with these people.
“Once you go to an Eric Church concert, you can’t go see anybody else,” Emma Padgett said. “There is nothing like his shows. And that’s why we keep coming back.”