Eric Church


By Adam Lucas

NASHVILLE—It all started here. In pretty much every possible way.

Eric Church was standing in the Country Music Hall of Fame, in the Rotunda, surrounded by plaques honoring numerous musicians he’d grown up idolizing. 

Around the center of the circular room, with the plaques arranged randomly so that no one has any greater importance than anyone else, the trim reads, Will The Circle Be Unbroken. And on this night, it was.

“When I start making an album, I have a visualization where I see a wall with all the album covers of my favorite albums,” he told the small group of friends and supporters who had gathered to celebrate the evening. “In my head, I see those. And when we finish making an album I always ask myself, ‘Can this album hang on that wall?’ That’s how I make records. And if I look around this room, those same people are here. Times change and technology happens. But the way we make music and the inspiration behind the music doesn’t change.”

So they were here, as they have been since the first members of the Hall of Fame—Jimmie Rodgers, Fred Rose and Hank Williams—were inducted in 1961. What made this night different was that Church was here, too, celebrating the debut of the Eric Church: Country Heart, Restless Soul exhibit that opens to the public for the first time on Thursday. 

A left turn and then a right from the Rotunda, the exhibit spanned an entire wall, with case after case of memorabilia. The treasure trove of items uncovered by the collaboration between Church’s team and the Hall of Fame is impressive. There are handwritten lyrics and photographs and an actual note from Bruce Springsteen to Eric Church about the song “Springsteen.” That would be plenty just by itself.

But there’s also the gold record Taylor Swift gave Church in appreciation for the oft-told story of how Church was fired from the Rascal Flatts tour in 2006, which led to an opening for Swift on that same tour. She inscribed it, “With SINCERE thanks for playing too loud and too long.”

Longtime Church fans will know many of the twists and turns in his career. But they’ve never seen it quite this way. You think it started with those records? It began even before that, with a priceless photograph of Church sitting in the patrol car of his grandfather, Ralph “Rusty” Barlow. Rusty was the longtime head of police in Granite Falls, North Carolina.

You can probably guess what they called him: Chief.

That’s the type of memorabilia that makes the exhibit special, although there’s plenty from the superstar phase of Church’s career, also—the purple jacket he wore when he sang the national anthem at the 2021 Super Bowl, storyboards for music videos, and even a pair of boxing gloves (it will make sense when you see the exhibit).

Before the small group toured the exhibit, Church walked through it with an even smaller group—his family. That included his wife and two sons; especially for the boys, many of the events depicted had previously been just a blur.

“My kids grew up on a tour bus,” Church said. “Being beside the boys tonight as we walked through, they don’t remember those things that happened when they were two or three years old. Being able to experience everything with them was my favorite part of the entire exhibit.

Back in the Rotunda, Hall of Fame CEO Kyle Young looked around at all the plaques. “The smart money says,” he said, “that Eric will be in this place one day.”

With Country Heart, Restless Soul, he’s off to a pretty good start already.

“This is an unbelievable honor for me,” Church said. “There is something to doing it your own way. And you can still get to where you want to go if you do it that way.”