Eric Church


By Adam Lucas

ALBUQUERQUE—Eric Church has been very specific with us about what is not rock and roll.

It’s right there in the lyrics to “That’s Damn Rock & Roll,” which he brought out for the first time on the Outsiders Revival Tour here on Friday night.

According to the song, rock and roll isn’t a middle finger on a t-shirt. It’s not the money when the record gets sold. It’s not a posse full of hangers-on following you around. And it’s not long hair, tattoos, or playing too loud.

Pardon the confusion (and it should be noted that at one particular juncture of the song, the exact specifics of which will definitely not be recorded for posterity, guitarist Driver Williams looked towards bassist Lee Hendricks and drummer Craig Wright and mouthed, “A little bit,” while holding his thumb and forefinger an inch apart, as if to say that some of these things were indeed perhaps a little bit rock and roll), but if none of these things are rock and roll, then what is, in fact, rock and roll?

Glad you asked. The mere fact that the song was being played on Friday night was very rock and roll. As Church himself told the crowd, he and the band hadn’t rehearsed the song in over two months. He hadn’t played it live in over a year. 

“We have no clue,” he told the crowd, “what’s about to happen.” 

He thrives on that uncertainty. It was obvious that it invigorated him to test himself and test his band, just to see if they could pull this off without a net in front of a 15,000-seat amphitheater. And they did, of course. Midway through, Church turned to Hendricks and gave a little shrug, as if to marvel that they’d done it again.

That’s rock and roll.

There’s an ice cream shop in Albuquerque called I Scream Ice Cream. You probably haven’t been there, and that’s understandable. It’s hard to find. The proprietor, Bill Warren, has stuffed every corner of the shop with knick-knacks, from California Raisin figurines to Coca-Cola signage to Bratz dolls. 

But among the chaos of the memorabilia, one photo has a place of honor: it’s the Rolling Stones, arms around each other, grinning, standing on stage in front of a sellout crowd, in Ohio in 1987. “I was a bit of a musician in my former life,” Bill says.

Those moments on stage live forever, even 35 years later. He’s an ice cream guy now, a beloved Albuquerque fixture. There was a time, though, when he was on stage with the Stones. There’s just something about being in front of that crowd with all of those people who become your family, and playing those songs and hearing them sung back to you. There’s a reason why everyone wants to do this job, why Nashville is full of people in bars and on Broadway who would give anything for one night just like this one. Rock and roll doesn’t fade away.

And neither, then, will this night for those who braved the unseasonably chilly temperatures and the quick cloudburst just before show time. 

They will remember a few other moments that are most definitely rock and roll:

Williams standing, one foot on the drum riser, hitting the first note of “Chattanooga Lucy” to open two hours of music.

Support act Paul Cauthen watching part of Church’s set from the pit, alternately drinking a beer and taking selfies with fans.

The entire stage persona of Jeff Hyde, who a bystander recently noted, “has written about 80 percent of country music you’ve ever heard,” (which includes being a cowriter on “Springsteen,” among other Church songs you’d know) and yet is completely unassuming on the stage.

Church reminding the crowd that although he hadn’t played Albuquerque in at least a decade—records differ on whether the Toby Keith tour, on which Church was an opening act, passed through town in 2011—he knew that the area was one of the very early supporters of his very first album. It was also, he told them, one of the first places he played the song “Sinners Like Me.” “I spent a week here that night,” he said with a smile.

Support act Hailey Withers googling herself to try and recall if she’d ever played Albuquerque before (the answer, she thinks, is no). 

The little girl on her father’s shoulders in the pit, just in front of the Outsiders Radio flag, bobbing her head to the beat of every song and singing the lyrics to almost all of them. At the conclusion of “Give Me Back My Hometown,” her father kissed her triumphantly on the cheek, forever etching that moment in both of their memories.

Trombonist Roy Agee playing and swaying to one of the consistent tour highlights, “Smoke a Little Smoke.” The moments when the horns section and the background vocalists merge at the front of the stage with Church is a little mini-revival inside of the Outsiders Revival. If nothing in that part of the show touches you, it’s probably time to go sit in the parking lot. Walking off the stage after that song, Agee let out a triumphant, “Wooooo!”

A moment later, the adrenaline was still pumping. “Oh hell yeah,” Agree said on the side of the stage while awaiting his next song. “Getting to be up there with everybody, doing that, it’s incredible.”

That’s because it’s rock and roll. Friday night was Whitters’ last one with the Outsiders Revival Tour, as the ever-rotating slate of support acts will change again on Saturday in Phoenix. Last week, at The Gorge, she sang two songs on stage with Church. Even a week later, she was still marveling at the experience.

“I went out for sound check and ran the songs with him,” she said. “One of the coolest things was that when we finished, I said, ‘Do you want me to change anything?’ And he said, ‘Nope, just have fun.’ It can be really easy to get lost in everything else that comes along with doing this. To hear, ‘Have fun,’ from someone of his caliber was so cool.”

And yes, so very rock and roll.