Eric Church


By Adam Lucas

CHARLESTON, S.C.—The fan had driven nearly five hours to be in Charleston in plenty of time for Friday night’s Eric Church show. He woke up excited on Friday morning: “You just wake up feeling different on days like this,” he said. “The blood is pumping a little differently.”

He grew up listening to Church’s music, could roll the hits off by memory. He’d recently discovered some of the deeper cuts. He’s currently infatuated with “Lightning,” has played it “at least a thousand times,” he said.

Friday night, the back half of a rare Double Down version of the Outsiders Revival Tour, he soaked in every song. When Church sang, “Everybody held up their hands,” he held up his hands. When, for the first time on this tour, Church played the opening notes of “Carolina,” he immediately started clapping in time to the beat.

He was, in other words, just like every single one of the other 12,000 fans in attendance. With one very important difference: he was Parker McCollum.

Along with Morgan Wade, McCollum had opened the show. He’d been on his bus overnight from Florida to be in Charleston, and would have to get back on the bus late Friday for the eight-hour drive to Virginia Beach for Saturday’s performance. But he never considered getting an early start on the trip. He knew he wanted to watch Church’s set.

“There are acts,” McCollum said on Friday, “and there are artists. Eric is an artist. When I was a kid, there was a lot on country radio that didn’t appeal to me. Eric Church songs always did. They seemed very honest. When someone sings a song, instantly you either buy it or you don’t. When Eric sings it, you buy it.”

Before the headliner took the stage, McCollum was looking down Church’s set list.

“Banger,” he said, pointing to “Mr. Misunderstood.” 

“Banger,” he said, pointing to “Bad Mother Trucker.” “That’s why it’s right up there at the top.” 

“Oh,” he said, pointing to “Carolina” about halfway down the set list and recognizing the Carolinas location of the show. “It’s a big night for that song.”

Indeed it was. Church had been admonished by one of his sons on Thursday night, after the first Charleston show. “Why didn’t you play Carolina?” he was asked.

“Tell you what,” he replied. “I’ll play it for you tomorrow night.”

Such is the reality of having so many hits that you can’t fit them all into one set list.

In the middle of his set—which, just for the record, also has some bangers—McCollum told the crowd, “I hope you have the best damn night of country music in South Carolina you ever did have.” 

And they did. We all experience a Church show in our own individual ways. That means at a typical show you might see the shirtless guy with sunglasses perched on the rail in the third level, the teenage girls dancing in the aisles, and the couple slow-dancing with their eyes closed…that was all just during “Round Here Buzz” on Friday night.

But the other artists know best. After a couple of tours without openers, it’s been interesting to watch the other performers come back to watch Church’s sets through the first five shows. Sitting with Ashley McBryde’s band a couple shows ago, it was fun to watch them raise eyebrows at each other when the first few notes of the funkified “Drink In My Hand” were played. This was not the song they knew. But as the chorus exploded, they immediately started bobbing their heads. Indeed, it wasn’t the song they knew—it was the evolution of the song they knew. The way they instantly connected to the artistry involved was like watching a great basketball player admire the highlights of another superstar.

Church has added an intro to “Springsteen” that somehow makes it more personal and poignant. Friday night’s performance of the song and crowd singalong was the best of the tour so far. Phones were illuminated all over the venue, flags were waving, moments were made.

It was the encore but it was also the perfect lead-in to the final song of the evening, as Church sang “Through My Ray-Bans” for the first time on this tour. His words in the song about the crowd were a perfect finale for the night, and a reminder of what McCollum had said a few hours earlier.

“One thing about Eric is that he cares,” McCollum said. “His love for the fans is super obvious. You can tell how much he cares for the people who paid their hard earned money to come watch him. When you have the talent he does and pair it with a level of care that high, it’s a bulletproof operation. That resonates with people. The way I grew up, I was always attracted to songwriters who meant it and stood for something in their songs instead of just trying to have number-ones.”