Eric Church


By Adam Lucas

RALEIGH—If we are being honest, I was nervous about Friday night’s Eric Church concert.

When people find out you are spending your summer going to virtually every show of the Outsiders Revival Tour, they immediately want to know your assessment. It is only natural.

So you spend most of your time talking about how incredible it is, and how every night is different and the set list is amazing and the horns and the band and the background vocals and the production and that opening and…well, you know. All of it.

But here’s the difference about Friday’s show: most of the people I’ve been telling for weeks were in the crowd at Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek. For a month, I’ve been saying this was the greatest concert they would ever attend. Now they had to judge for themselves.

So I was nervous. This was my home game—my only home game. What if my crowd didn’t come ready to play? What if they just sat and watched? What if they didn’t sing along or never fully committed to the night or held something back?

And now, late as Friday night turns into Saturday, after an hour of Cody Jinks and over two hours of Eric Church, I can confidently say: those were really stupid worries. Because Raleigh brought it.

“Welcome to North Carolina,” Church said from the stage after the second song, “Bad Mother Trucker.” “This is going to be one of those nights,” he said. “I’ve had this circled all tour.”

And then he promptly set about doing everything he possibly could to ensure that it was indeed one of those nights. You could tell very early that he was feeling it; as the band launched into “Drink In My Hand,” he spontaneously yelled, “Here we go now!” It’s those little moments.

Like this one: after “Drink,” guitar tech MJ Sagraves brought Church his next guitar, but had to pause for a couple seconds because Church was still soaking in the crowd’s raucous reception to the previous song. That doesn’t happen on a normal night. But this wasn’t normal.

During “Where I Wanna Be,” there’s a “Hey! Hey! Hey!” part with the background vocalists. On a typical evening, Church says, “Gimme me six times,” or maybe seven at the most. The number tells the vocalists how many times he wants a “Hey!” 

Friday night, he asked for ten.

Around that time, the texts were starting to roll in. These are all actual texts from people I’d told about the incredible show they were about to see.

“This is unbelievable. What would it feel like to be that good at something?”

“The people around us are living their very best life. So many of them. It’s incredible. Every lyric. Genuine joy.”

“This really is a dream come true.”

“Every song feels like the best one.”

I’ve spent a lot of nights at Walnut Creek, and if you’re local you know that’s still what you call it. Right down there in section two, I caught Kix Brooks’ black cowboy hat when he hurled it into the crowd in the late 1990’s at a Brooks and Dunn show. Up there on the lawn, I saw Rhett Akins sing “That Ain’t My Truck” back before it was considered “90’s country,” when it was a hit the first time around.

I’ve seen Raleigh’s own The Connells and I saw Alan Jackson sing “Chattahoochee” and I saw Tim McGraw before he ever met Faith Hill.

So what I’m saying is that there’s plenty of history here. But people talk about core memories. I hope my image forever of Walnut Creek is Eric Church singing “Carolina” in August of 2023. When he got to the part about, “I’d love to see my momma,” he added, “Who is in this room tonight.”

And I looked to my right, and there was Rita Church, who raised her hands in the air, as if to wave to her son. In that moment it was just the two of them in that sea of 20,000 sold-out people, and I got full body chills.

I highly recommend that everyone should see Eric Church sing “Carolina” in North Carolina. As he said when he finished, “Whew. That was worth the trip right there.”

There is just something about an amphitheater in the summer in front of a sold-out crowd. These nights last way longer than just a couple of hours. These nights produce the stories that we tell at family dinners and holidays and in multi-exclamation point texts to our friends for years.

Andrew, one of the self-proclaimed biggest Cody Jinks fans in the entire building, happened to spot Jinks in the crowd during Church’s set and ended up with a signed setlist from the very gracious singer. A friend took his 10-year-old son to his very first concert and watched as he shouted back, “Hey!” in all the right parts on “Desperate Man.” Two of our close friends, longtime diehard Eric Church fans,  just happened to find their engagement song on the night’s setlist. 

There’s just something about these nights. And especially this night, in front of these hometown—as Church said, “my hometown”—folks.

And Raleigh, he noticed. After the show, he was talking about what a great crowd you were, about how difficult it is to play in front of the home folks because you want everything to be perfect…but how rewarding it can be when it actually goes perfectly.

He finished with “Those I’ve Loved,” the first time he’s played the song live at a concert in nearly two years. It was the perfect finale because so many of those were indeed in the building. But he’d already given the most fitting description of the evening.

In “Round Here Buzz,” there’s a line that Church will sometimes change to fit the setting. On Friday night, it went this way:

“I never had big city eyes

“I come from Caldwell County.”

This can be tricky. There have been stops on the tour where finding the right words to rhyme with the location he picked can be problematic. You try, for example, to spontaneously come up with something that rhymes with Ontario.

On this night, though, the next line was completely obvious, and (of course) completely perfect.

“It’s great to have,” he sang, “all these fine Carolina people around me.”