Eric Church


By Adam Lucas

TORONTO—It’s OK to be skeptical.

You can look at the list of stops on the Outsiders Revival Tour and some make obvious sense. Raleigh, yes. Orange Beach, Alabama, of course. Austin, sure.

Toronto? As in Canada? What do they know about the Chief?

As it turns out, a whole lot.

“What brings you to Toronto?” the customs agent said very early on Thursday morning.

“A concert,” we replied.

“Oh,” he said. “Beyonce’?”

She will doubtless be amazing on Saturday night when she plays the Rogers Centre, but by then we’ll be in Pittsburgh. But still, customs not knowing the musical calendar for the week was cause for a little nervousness.

The first sign that everything was going to be OK here came later on Thursday. Walking around the Hockey Hall of Fame were dozens of fans in Maple Leafs and Canadiens sweaters. And then there was the gentleman proudly wearing his EFC t-shirt, walking through the bank vault that displays the Stanley Cup. Maybe these things can coexist after all.

It only got better from there. Friday night, as no less than Eric Church himself put it, was incredible. “What a night,” he said. “Apologies to the other cities, but this is my favorite night of the tour.”

Sometimes everything just comes together. A night after a sticky Thursday night show with plenty of humidity, Friday was clear with a gentle breeze. The iconic CN Tower was lit up perfectly in the distance. And starting with Shane Smith & The Saints and Koe Wetzel, the beyond sold-out crowd of over 16,000 who showed up came to enjoy themselves and start the weekend in the loudest, rowdiest, most participatory way possible. They were so good they even hit that high note—you know the one—on “Give Me Back My Hometown.”

Well, almost. But to be fair, anyone who can hit that note is already standing on the stage.

You can tell when Church is feeling the crowd. It happened early on Friday. By song number three—“Heart On Fire”—he was already turning over part of the chorus to them. 

By the time he played “Carolina” for just the second time on this tour, they sang along so loudly that we could have been in Granite Falls rather than the capital of Ontario. Putting that song on this set list felt a little strange…until they proved him correct.

Their energy was enough to enable the band to take some chances. Two songs—“Look Good and You Know It” and “Lone Wolf”—were added to the set list for the first time on this tour. That means don’t get comfortable if you’ve got tickets to an upcoming show, because over the past two nights in Canada he’s played five different songs for the first time during Outsiders Revival.

It was during those songs that it truly became obvious what kind of night this was going to be. Let’s be honest: those are deeper cuts. Everyone knows “Springsteen.” But there were numerous diehards who knew every word even of the songs that have never been on the radio.

That included a group of three friends—James, Mike and Alex—who knew every single word of every song that was played, start to finish, 25 songs in total. It was difficult to miss them; Alex was wearing an orange Hawaiian shirt, a fedora, and white pants. Maybe a little like Toronto, it was easy to underestimate him. What could this guy know about Eric Church?

A whole lot. It was his 36th Church show. It was Mike’s 13th Church show since 2016 alone. “We have,” Alex said, “traveled the continent to see him.” And why?

“Authenticity,” Mike said. “Some people rip on country music. Eric Church is a troubadour in every sense of the word. He’s not just one of the best songwriters in country music. He’s one of the best songwriters in music, period.”

And they knew every single one of those songs. Every last one. I wish everyone could experience an Eric Church show the way these three guys did, perfect representatives of exactly what kind of night this was. The energy they had around 30 rows from the stage carried over to every seat to every row and all the way up to the mic stand, where Church just simply couldn’t leave. Not tonight. 

The five-figure curfew fine he’ll pay for Friday night is the best money spent so far on the Outsiders Revival Tour. These people deserved it. It was 110 decibels when Church came back on stage to play his encore, “Springsteen,” just from the crowd roaring. That’s before any music started. A jet flyover at 100 feet is 103 decibels. 

The way Toronto had fueled him, the way he had thrived off their energy, you just knew Church wasn’t leaving with only one encore. “One more,” he said, as his crew reminded him of the curfew. “We’ve kept you a little late,” he told the crowd, “but I have to do one more.” He finished with “Holdin’ My Own.” And there were James, Mike and Alex, arms around each other, arms around their wives and girlfriends, singing every single word.

“There is,” Alex said, “no one like him in music.”

Church’s security ace, Pete Martinez, has seen hundreds of these nights. He has the most accurate gauge for how to tell when it’s not just a good show, but an electric show.

“Was there any point,” he asked, “where you got goosebumps?”

Oh yes. When the crowd took over the “Whoa-whoa-whoaaawhoa” part in “Springsteen” without any prompting, and when the lights came on during “Hometown” and every person was singing the entire chorus, and when Church and the horn section and the backup singers came to center stage for the final punctuation mark on “Smoke a Little Smoke.” 

“Then that,” Pete said, “was definitely one of the great ones.”

You can take it from here, Beyonce’. Doubt Canada at your own peril. The Great White North just set the bar for this tour.