Eric Church


By Adam Lucas 

PITTSBURGH—It was a big occasion in the Como family.

Dan Como’s niece was going to sing backup for the Rolling Stones. As in, the actual Rolling Stones. Mick, Keith, and the whole lot of them. His niece was part of a school choir that was going to sing backup for the Stones at Ohio Stadium—the Horseshoe!—in May of 2015 in front of 60,000 people. 

This would obviously be a story the Como family would tell for years. And it is, but not for the reason you think.

Dan didn’t go. Everyone else was in that crowd of 60,000, but not him. Why not?

He grins. “I got really good seats for Eric Church,” he says. 

Chief was playing that very same night at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh with Kenny Chesney. So Dan went, one of the five times prior to Saturday night he had seen Eric Church.

“So many artists mail it in,” Dan said on Saturday. “Eric Church never mails it in.”

He’s seen Church in a variety of venues around Pennsylvania, including the famed Covid shows in October of 2021 when he performed solo after his band contracted the virus. 

“He blew everyone away,” Dan says. “It was unbelievable for him to be able to do that, with basically no preparation, because he wanted to make sure the fans got a great show.”

So of course Dan would be in Pittsburgh on Saturday for Church’s latest engagement in Pennsylvania, featuring openers Shane Smith & The Saints and Koe Wetzel. Authorities had issued warnings for heavy traffic on the day of the show, so Dan sprung for the really good parking pass and the early access to the parking lot.

His wife, Dawn, acknowledges that she harangued him on the way to the concert for arriving so early. “I’ve gotten to the airport with him so early before that they wouldn’t even let us check a bag yet,” she says. “I definitely thought we were getting here too early.”

Hearing this, Dan—a middle school principal—just smiles. “This,” he says, “is the best money on parking I’ve ever spent.”

That’s because around 4 p.m., they were enjoying their tailgate when a black SUV pulled up in the parking lot. This particular SUV had been commandeered on the spur of the moment. Church was sitting on his bus with a member of his management team, Brandon Schneeberger. They’d previously kicked around the idea of roaming the parking lot at one of the Outsiders Revival shows. Pittsburgh tailgating is legendary. “Let’s do it right now,” Church said.

So they did. They circled the parking lot in the SUV undetected for ten minutes, just people-watching and enjoying watching fans make an entire day of it. Then Church spotted a Carolina blue homemade Chief shirt. “That’s the one,” he said. The car stopped.

The back door opened, and a tall gentleman wearing a black Chief’s shirt hopped out. It looked an awful lot like Eric Church.

What was remarkable is the way everyone else in the tailgate group of nearly a dozen was hesitant to believe it was actually Church himself. Double-takes abounded. Except for Dan. Dan immediately breaks into a wide smile, walks right up to the new arrival—who is, in fact, Eric Church—and greets him with a hug and a handshake. Everyone else is incredulous. Dan seems more like someone welcoming the late straggler at Thanksgiving.

As word spread around the parking lot to the other early arrivals, the original crowd of a dozen rapidly swelled to over 50. There were photos and autographs and maybe a few squeals. As it was becoming a little unmanageable, Church hopped back in the SUV. But not before leaving Dan with a little souvenir—a bottle of Whiskey JYPSI that Dan’s buddies immediately came up with numerous good ideas of how to put to good use. They decided they’re going to save it for a special occasion, maybe some July Saturday night when they’re sitting out on the back deck.

This particular Saturday night, of course, they already had plans…and a soundtrack. Church finished off the third of three straight shows this weekend with a rousing performance that went deeper into the night than any tour stop yet this year. It had to, in order to satiate a sold-out 23,000-strong crowd that was packed body to body on the lawn well over an hour before Church ever stepped on the stage. 

“In the course of our career, Pittsburgh has saved our asses many times,” the singer told the crowd. “There were times that we couldn’t play anywhere, but we could play here.”

So he played…and played…and played. Two songs—“Break It Kind Of Guy” and “Heart of the Night” made their tour debut. Night after night, it’s easy to get numb to the level of entertaining that’s happening on the stage. But the Pittsburgh crowd, even more than most other places, seems to appreciate that this isn’t a normal show they’re watching. After playing the opening set, Shane Smith brought one of his high school friends to the front of the house. “I told him he has to watch the intro,” Smith said. “It’s unbelievable.” Members of Koe Wetzel’s tour crew watched the entire Church set, at one point standing on a chair to capture the crowd’s response to “Springsteen.”

Remember, those people do this for a living. They’re hard to impress, because they’ve seen it so many times in so many ways. And even they realized this was something a little different.

When it was nearly over, Church simply couldn’t leave this very special crowd just yet. He’d juggled his encore set, going into “Holdin’ My Own” after “Springsteen.” But the people kept roaring, and no one was leaving,  so he turned to the band and pointed to his boots. Before he even turned back to face the crowd, dozens of fans were already holding their boots in the air. They knew what was coming, and of course, he finished with “These Boots,” bringing it back for the first time since Milwaukee on the tour’s opening night.

With the lyrics echoing his reference to Pittsburgh’s importance in his career, it was a fitting closer. And a very appropriate ending to an unforgettable day for Dan Como.

“I got to watch my kids sing along to Smoke a Little Smoke and Give Me Back My Hometown,” he said. “We all talked about how surreal it was for Eric to just show up at the tailgate. He’s an incredible person. I think we all agreed we love his music so much because he is one of us. He understands what our lives are all about.”