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6/7/24 residency show

After Hours

The days of seeing Eric Church play in a bar aren’t over just yet.

That’s what the first and second floor crowds at Chief’s learned on Friday night.

Church had just completed the 17th of his 19 “To Beat the Devil” residency shows. It might have been one of the best in the sequence. The crowd of less than 400 was appreciative, the music was good, and the stories landed just right. It was one of the longest, loudest receptions of the residency for one in particular of the new songs that haven’t been played anywhere else.

So it was a good night. But it wasn’t over.

This is CMA Fest weekend in Nashville. People are everywhere. It’s virtually impossible for anyone with any level of fame to go anywhere without being stopped to take a photo or sign an autograph.

But then, after midnight, there came Church down the stairs at Chief’s, where he grabbed a seat near the first floor bar.

Give credit to Dirt Reynolds, the band that was on stage at the Tavern when Church walked in: they knew their audience. As he entered, the lead singer was walking around the crowd holding a tip jar, a time-honored tradition for anyone who has been in their position.

But they quickly adapted when they gained a new visitor. Their first song after Church appeared was “Snake Farm” by Ray Wylie Hubbard, a longtime Church favorite—and Hubbard was the first non-Church artist to play a ticketed event at the Neon Steeple. Suitably inspired, it wasn’t long before Church himself was on stage with the gloriously named Dirt Reynolds, ripping through perhaps the least-viewed version of “Springsteen” in the song’s 13-year lifespan.

There couldn’t have been more than 150 people in the bar. All 150 of them had their phones out, so you might see the performance on the internet over the next few days.

But if you squinted your eyes just right, you could have been back at Coyote Joe’s. You could almost look out the window and watch word spreading up Broadway…”Eric Church is in there.”

Sure he is, was the frequent response. But the windows were open and sound was traveling, and you know, that did sound an awful lot like Eric Church in there.

“What’s with all the phones?” came the question from the cowboy hat-wearing female who finally made it through the line at the front door around 12:45 a.m.

“Eric’s been on stage,” was the reply, with a nod towards the Tavern stage that stands in front of the neon “Cotton Eyed Joe” sign that pays homage to the building’s former tenant. Her look of skepticism was understandable. Where once you could buy only the very finest in tourist trap keychains without the airport markup, now one of the country’s best entertainers was playing one of the biggest songs of the last 20 years to a few dozen of his closest friends. Do you know how many times that song has been covered on Broadway just this week alone? Now, here was the originator, casually hanging out, sending a handful of people home with a memory they won’t forget and a story some of their friends won’t believe.

That stage has had quite a couple of months. Michael Jordan stood on it during the friends and family opening night—and legend has it, might have displayed a few dance moves. Now Church was performing while most of CMA Fest walked down Broadway, oblivious.

By the time it was 1 a.m., he eventually also made his way up to the second floor Friendly Shadows piano bar, where he sang—what else?—“Springsteen” while the crowd sang along, convinced they were experiencing a once in a lifetime moment. They had no idea the crowd on the first floor were still buzzing about their once in a lifetime moment.

And it was. It’s just that those moments have a habit of happening with some frequency at Chief’s.

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It’s CMA Fest weekend in Nashville, which means the sidewalks are packed, the music is loud–and Eric Church is still blissfully ignoring all the commotion while doing things his own way inside Chief’s.

Looking down on first floor of Neon Steeple


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A full day of Eric Church activities included a trip to the Country Music Hall of Fame, a 15th straight sold-out residency show at Chief’s, and a reminder that a singer who once couldn’t get a job on Broadway is now influencing the next generation trying to rule Nashville.

Stage in Chief's Tavern


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Tuesday night’s Eric Church residency show provided a little bit of everything that everyone in attendance needed. And a very special post-concert meeting was a reminder of the connection between the singer and his fans.