I may be a little biased because he’s one of my favorite artists, but I think it’s fair to say that Eric Church puts on one of the best live shows in the game.
For the last few tours, Church has done something few artists do: He’s hit the road by himself. No openers, just 3+ hours of Church (sometimes with an intermission, sometimes not) playing everything from his biggest hits to his deep cuts.
And in 2019, he mixed it up even more with his Double Down Tour, where not only did he play for 3 hours each night on every stop, but he played two shows in every city on the tour.
But then 2020 hit. And we all know what happened then: Live music came to a halt, and artists openly wondered when or if they’d be able to get back out on the road.
Through the pandemic, Church remained one of the most vocal superstars when it came to bringing live music back in front of fans, and he became one of the first major acts to resume touring when he announced his Gather Again Tour in 2021.
Once again, Church was hitting the road with no opener, and would play a 3+ hour show each night for his fans, this time with a brand new stage that had Church in the round, surrounded on all sides by the crowd. The tour kicked off in September 2021, and being in the arena that night, you could feel the excitement and relief from not only the fans, but from Church, as live music once again took center stage.
But for Church, that excitement didn’t last long.
The tour was hit with a number of problems. With COVID still at the forefront, Chief had to deal with members of his band testing positive in the middle of the tour. He ended up playing two shows fully acoustic after the band caught COVID, bringing out Morgan Wallen as a surprise guest for one of the shows and Cam for another.
And when his backup singer, Joanna Cotten also tested positive for COVID, he quickly went to the bullpen and was joined by Ashley McBryde, who filled in for Cotten during a surprise appearance.
Of course he also had to deal with different cities imposing their own COVID restrictions on fans, too. Church did his best to adapt for his own team, even bringing a COVID-sniffing dog with him on tour to keep his band and crew safe.
Then there was the stage itself. The stage for the tour was custom built, but once they got out on the road, there was a problem: Church hated it.
He ended up calling an audible, and having a brand new stage built mid-tour.
But while reflecting on that tour in a new interview with Esquire, Church reveals that it almost had him rethinking touring altogether – and whether it was even worth it.
“I really had some conversations with myself after that.
Our stage sucked. I didn’t like playing in the round—I felt like I was turning my back on the audience every time I went somewhere.
I did not have fun, and I came off that going, ‘I don’t know if I really want to keep doing this, and I don’t want to feel like I have to.’
You can tell an artist that has to be there versus wants to be, and I always want to be there.”
Ultimately, Church says it was his least favorite tour that he’s ever done:
“That whole tour was a pain in the ass.
It was hard every night. We kept having people fall in and out. Different municipalities had different rules.
I hate to say it this way, because there were good shows, but it was my least favorite. It didn’t feel like we were back in the spirit of what we did.”
So for a moment, it sounds like Church was really debating whether he wanted to keep going with touring. But he says the moment that he decided to get back out there came during a performance with Trombone Shorty at the New Orleans Jazz Fest:
“It was a who’s who, and I was the only country guy, and one of the only white guys. I thought we were gonna do a cover, but then they wanted to do our song ‘Cold One,’ with no rehearsal, and it was killer.
I walked off the stage and went, ‘Okay, that is what I’m f*cking talking about!’
For four minutes of time, we found commonality onstage. So I don’t know where that’s gonna go, but that’s what I’m after.”
The result was his current tour, the Outsiders Revival Tour, which wraps up this weekend in Florida. It’s unlike any Church has done in his career, not only because it’s his first amphitheater tour, but it’s also his first in many years without his longtime backup singer Joanna Cotten.
After Cotten left the band, Church replaced her with three new backup singers, and added a 3-piece horn section to bring his total stage show to 13 performers. And instead of focusing on the hits, for this tour Church has dove deep into his catalog to bring fans songs that they usually don’t get to hear at a live show.
He’s even debuted jazzy new versions of some of his most popular songs, taking full advantage of the horn section that’s so unique in country music.
It makes calling the tour a “Revival” all the more fitting. Not only is it a revival for fans, but for Church – who at one point wasn’t sure whether he wanted to do it anymore at all.