Eric Church


By Adam Lucas

BRISTOW—Let’s get this out of the way first: when you’re watching a major concert from the stage, it’s really difficult to hear what’s happening.

There are probably some scientific reasons for this, but I was told there would be no math, so let’s just accept it as fact: the first step to enjoying a concert from the stage is making friends with the stage manager (thanks Sambo). 

In an effort to see the Outsiders Revival Tour from every possible angle, most of Saturday night’s show at Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, Va., was watched from the side of the stage. It’s a surprisingly different experience while also being very similar.

The songs are the same, of course. Once that whole hearing situation is solved—there’s a reason everyone on stage is wearing earphones, which give you a much better sense of what’s actually happening—it’s just as amazing to hear Eric Church play “Chattanooga Lucy” from 20 feet away from him as it is 20 rows from the stage.

You are immediately reminded that these are not normal individuals we’re watching. Have you ever done anything in front of 25,000 people? It’s stressful just to walk behind the set when there are 25,000 people on the other side. Being able to sing or play an instrument in front of that same crowd is a different kind of talent.

You might not be able to hear very well from the stage, but you can see absolutely everything. You get a true sense of both how big the mass of humanity out there is, but also how individual they are. If you’ve ever sat within 15 or 20 rows of the stage and wondered if that singer on the stage can see you, the answer is that they absolutely can. That’s part of what fuels the show; being able to see the fan in the “HAGGARD” shirt during “Pledge Allegiance to the Hag” and the couple punching the air on every beat of “The Outsiders.”

Up here, you get a much greater sense of some of the interactions between the band, and about the camaraderie on the stage. Church put “Never Break Heart” on the set list for this one, which features a trumpet solo by Emmanuel Echem. 

Because everyone in the band makes what they do look so easy, it’s instructive to watch while standing next to their fellow members. Saxophonist Evan Cobb and trombonist Roy Agee know what’s impressive, and as Echem played, they let out an occasional “Woooooo!” When he finished and walked off the stage, they greeted him with high fives and slaps on the back.

That’s the environment Church has cultivated. There is very little pretense. Cody Jinks, a 25-year veteran of the music business, opened the show and has spent parts of the last two nights watching Church’s set.

“There’s zero bullshit,” Jinks said. “There’s no fat. He goes out there and sings his songs. He doesn’t have lasers and big explosions. He doesn’t have to. Listen to the crowd. They’re loving it exactly the way he is doing it.”

It’s Church plus the other 12 members—three on background vocals, three on horns, and the other six members of the Eric Church Band, or as they’re referred to on the in-house communications system when they get their cue to take the stage, “The baddest band in the land”—on the stage. 

Just off to the side, though, there are dozens of people completely committed to ensuring those on the stage look and sound perfect. You think it matters to them? Crew member Andy Cormack grew up going to shows at Jiffy Lube Live, sitting on the lawn and imagining what it might be like to be on the stage.

Saturday night, he was there. During “Hometown,” he stood up, raised his arms, and sang, “This is MY hometown.” That’s why the product on the stage looks so polished—there’s that level of emotional investment behind the scenes.

It’s worth remembering that this very big business is also a family business. Perhaps the most important person in the wings is Eric’s wife, Katherine, a veteran of the music scene. She’s the one mixing the drinks in those Chief cups that go out on stage with her husband, and she’s also the one he consults when he walks off stage after “Pledge Allegiance to the Hag,” as they try to diagnose exactly how many minutes they have left before the curfew (a very intimidating sign posted on the stage announces in bold letters that the curfew is “VERY STRICT”) and how many songs they can squeeze in.

They collaborate to edit the setlist on the fly, just a normal couple—who did normal museum hopping with their kids during the day—who are having a normal conversation while very abnormally, 25,000 people wait for the outcome.

They’ve both said that their kids have grown up on a tour bus while they try to make sure they have as normal a life as possible. It’s a little odd to think that two or three times a week, we’re essentially sitting in their den while they try to be spouses and parents and, yes, one of the best entertainers in the world.

That dichotomy comes through better from the stage perspective. Out there in the crowd, it’s easy to see Church only as a performer, as that voice that comes through your stereo singing the songs you’ve been singing for years. From the side of the stage, though, he looks an awful lot like a real person who has a family and is trying to meet a deadline at work.

“You should take my blood pressure now,” he grins as he walks off the stage for the last time, a nod to the pressing time constraints. 

No matter from what perspective you watched this one, the outcome is the same.

“I keep a running list in my head,” Church had told the crowd, “of the best shows of the tour. And you’re definitely in the running. From front to back, you’re in the running.”