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5/17/24 residency show

Friday Night

It was 7:30 p.m. on a Friday and Broadway was being Broadway.

“This is a weekend that isn’t as busy,” the Uber driver had said earlier on Friday afternoon. Graduations at Vanderbilt and Belmont are over. The summer crowds haven’t arrived yet. The way he talked about it, tumbleweeds blowing past the honky tonks sounded like a distinct possibility.

By later in the evening, though, the weed was not of the tumble variety. The line at Hattie B’s Hot Chicken was stretched around the corner. The street wasn’t yet blocked off by police, so the sidewalks were elbow to elbow. In the three blocks between Bridgestone Arena and Chief’s, the unofficial tally was three bachelorette parties in matching outfits, four party buses and nine pink cowboy hats.

If you are a Broadway regular, you are doubtless thinking these numbers sound very low. Remember: it was 7:30. The night hadn’t even really started yet.

It was all the very best and all the very worst of why Nashville is one of the hottest cities in the United States. You would have to try very hard to not have fun. But there was also a distinctly tourist vibe about the area. Ever seen the lights go down on Broadway? Trust me, look around on a Nashville weekend and you’ll see a lot more go down than just the lights.

And then there was Chief’s. It’s not unusual to walk past two Broadway bars and hear the same cover song pumping from both. It’s still Music City, but it’s most often someone else’s music.

Eric Church never wanted Chief’s to be the same way. He requires anyone who gets a slot on the first floor in the Tavern or on the second floor in Friendly Shadows to bring their own original songs. Play a cover or two, sure. But play something you created, too.

On the third and fourth floors, in the Neon Steeple, just under 400 people gathered on Friday night to hear someone who came up through Nashville playing his own music. Sometimes it worked in those early years. Sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes a crowd of a handful didn’t get it. Sometimes a crowd of hundreds did.

But that’s what led everyone to that room. “Welcome to a Friday night,” Church told the crowd, “at Chief’s.”

And it was in every way a Friday night crowd. They stomped and clapped along to not just the hits Church played them, but to the pre-show music that played over the speakers. Let’s put it this way: when it came time to raise their glasses of cold, cold beer, participation was nearly 100 percent.

That was invigorating for Church, who was playing through a cold passed to him by one of his sons earlier this week. “Kids,” he lamented as he worked to squeeze every possible note out of his voice, “are petri dishes.”

But no one seemed to mind. The thing about Nashville, the thing that keeps all those people coming back, is that there’s an insane amount of talent in this city. The people playing in every nook and corner of the Nashville airport—at the airport!—are just a little better at this music thing than anyone you’ve ever seen in your life.

That’s how you can be sitting at Chief’s on a Friday and look over and notice that your seatmates are three members of Church’s band. Jeff Cease, Jeff Hyde and Craig Wright were virtually anonymous among the Friday night fans, even though they’ve lived most of the stories Church tells during his To Beat the Devil residency show.

Lainey Wilson has been here. Brett Young stopped by. Chase Rice passed through. Perhaps you heard about Morgan Wallen. Casey Beathard showed up at his scheduled songwriter show at Chief’s and just happened to bring along his son, Tucker, who has had a top-10 single as an artist and has released a pair of albums. It is very difficult to make it here, partially because the baseline talent is so, so high.

The residency show is partially about imagining what it must have been like to see Church when he was just starting to break through. There’s just something about hearing him sing about preaching from the book of Johnny Cash while an angry Cash stares down from his stained glass window in the back of the room. You see how it fits and why it makes sense.

The songs still resonate. The members of his band have played these songs thousands of times. And yet there they were, in the audience, unable to resist bobbing their heads along to the melodies they know instinctively. That’s how good the songs are.

“At the end of tonight,” Church told the crowd, “I know you better and you know me better. That’s what this space is about.”

And then he bid them good evening. Some hit the piano bar. Some probably went and stood in line for hot chicken.

All of them, though, had a quintessential Nashville night.

Get More On the Record

Friendly Shadows dueling pianos


Ups and Downs

A memorable Wednesday night at Chief’s included one of the best To Beat the Devil residency shows so far, plus two Nashville residents smoothly transitioning from stuck in an elevator to hanging out with Eric Church in the green room.

View from stage at Neon Steeple


Tar Heels

There were 389 people inside the Neon Steeple for Eric Church’s “To Beat the Devil” residency show at Chief’s on Tuesday night. It only seemed like approximately 387 of them were from the state of North Carolina, including two very proud fans in the first row who could picture every back road on the stories he told from home.

Fiddle and Steel Guitar Bar neon


No Spoilers

The “To Beat the Devil” residency show is best experienced without any prior hint of what’s about to happen. So there are no spoilers here. But it’s perfectly reasonable to know how it’s going to make you feel, and a quartet of Church Choir members helped explain that journey on Wednesday night.