Eric Church


By Adam Lucas

INDIANAPOLIS—Marines don’t cry.

That’s not true. Marines are—in some ways—just like you and me, and maybe they’re even standing right next to you in the pit at the latest edition of the Eric Church Outsiders Revival Tour at Ruoff Music Center in Indianapolis.

They go to concerts. They sing along. They put their arms around their loved ones and they make a mental note to remember this night, because you never know when you might get another one.

It’s just that when they’re finished being just like us, they go off and are completely unlike us, protecting everything that allows us to have nights like this.

And they cry, when they have the right reason.

Meet Sgt. Mallory Harrison. She was in the pit on Friday night. She took her mom and her best friend and her younger brother, Colten.

They did it to be with each other, to make sure Colten saw one of the best shows anywhere—the Church/Cody Jinks combination just works, and we’ll have more on that tomorrow in Chicago—for his first-ever concert. 

But they also did it for Mallory’s best friend in the Marines, Nicole Gee. Mallory and Nicole had no reason to know each other, really. Nicole was from California and Mallory was from Indiana. If it hadn’t been for the Marines, their paths never would have crossed.

A love of wanting to do something to help others brought them together. That led them to the Marines, which led them to boot camp, which threw them together. And they were very rarely apart after that.

A few days before she died in August of 2021, Nicole posted on Instagram: “I love my job,” was her caption, with a photo of her holding a refugee baby in Afghanistan. Less than a week later, she was dead, the victim of a suicide bomber.

And Mallory cried. She cried then and she cries now, as she’s telling you about her friend. In the days and weeks and months after Nicole’s death, nothing made sense. 

Except for the music of Eric Church.

“I just want to tell Eric,” she said, “that his music got me through a time that I didn’t know how to get through.”

There were 24,790 people in Friday night’s sold-out crowd. Most were there to revel, to put their arms around their families during “Sinners Like Me” and to be surprised when Church played “Kill a Word” for the first time since March of 2022 and to be even more shocked when for the first time anywhere other than a private show in Chapel Hill, he played “On the Road,” a song he just wrote a week ago.

They were there, in other words, to experience what Church very aptly called “summertime in a bottle.”

“We’re about halfway through this tour,” he told the crowd at a venue where he had once served as the opener for Toby Keith. “And some of my favorite experiences of my 20 year career have been doing this.”

He’s having as much fun as you are. If you’ve been to the first half of the tour, you already know this. And if you’re holding tickets for the second half, there’s no telling what you might see.

Church elected not to script Friday night’s encore at all. On the sheet handed to all the musicians, it simply read:

“EC—Will Call.”

That means he just decided, in the moment, what to play for his final three songs of the night. Normal performers, even exceptionally talented performers, can’t do that. Church can. Which is what makes people keep coming back, even on the same tour. Did you see “Hallelujah?” No, but I got, “On the Road.” Can’t wait for the next one.

Background vocalist Whitney Coleman was standing on the side of the stage Friday night about 10:50 p.m., waiting out the cheers of a crowd demanding an encore. “We have no idea what we’re doing next,” she said. This was approximately ten seconds before she went out to sing for nearly 25,000 people. The fact that Church has found a dozen other musicians to stand on the stage with him and pull this off, night after night, is a very small musical miracle. 

There will be other tours, for sure. The only absolute certainty with Eric Church is he will not be static. Tonight it’s the horns and the new version of “Drink In My Hand.”

Tomorrow? Absolutely no clue, and the truth is he probably doesn’t know yet either. But he’ll know when it’s time (or, sometimes, a couple seconds before it’s time).

In the end, though, it all comes back to Church and a guitar. That’s how he performed “On the Road.” How good was it? Let’s put it this way: as he walked off, even the crew—which sees this every night—looked at each other. “Wow,” they said as they began the process of loading everything to truck it to Chicago.

When Mallory Harrison was trying to live through the incredible tragedy of her friend’s death, she connected with “Mr. Misunderstood.” That’s the song she thinks of when she thinks of that time.

No one on stage knows Mallory. No one knew she was there, or that Colten was right there in the very front of the pit. So they weren’t doing it for them. But they very much do it because of them, because every night there’s someone having that kind of experience, someone for whom the music is very much indispensable to their life. So they play or they sing or both, and put it out into the crowd and hope it connects.

When it does…well, it’s like Friday night, when everything landed flawlessly from “Chattanooga Lucy” all the way through “On the Road.” And so maybe when Mallory thinks of this evening, maybe she’ll think of the song Eric Church played for the very first time for her and for her family, and for the 24,786 others who stood elbow to elbow from start to finish, putting another memory (ask Colten about the signed hat he received from Jinks) on top of old ones. 

“It’s strange how grief works,” Mallory said. “I know Nicole would want me to be happy and if she was here, she would definitely tell me, ‘Get out and live your best life.’ But it’s hard. It’s hard to enjoy simple things sometimes, like going to a concert and drinking beer and dancing, because she should be here too. I know she wouldn’t change a thing. But I miss her, every second of every day. 

“I believe everything happens for a reason. And I can’t help but think Mallory knew I needed to be the weird kid in my high top shoes jamming out to Mr. Misunderstood in the pit on Friday night.”

It was music that got Mallory through the darkest days of her life. And music that, hopefully, gave her one of the very best on Friday night.

“On the road

“They say never ends

“But I know one day I’ll do anything

“To do it all again.”