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5/1/24 residency show

No Spoilers

You will not find a set list here.

There are no spoilers.

Eric Church performed his sixth “To Beat the Devil” residency at Chief’s on Broadway Wednesday night, and the responsibility here is to help you understand what’s happening inside the Neon Steeple without providing any incriminating details.

As Church himself described it in the wee hours of Thursday morning, “Your job is to write about what’s happening without telling anyone what is happening.”

That’s it exactly.

So how do you do that? I can’t give you song titles. There are lyrics you know but also a whole lot you don’t, and even telling you that much is giving something away.

So let’s stop there before it goes too far. After all, the man himself has made the expectations very clear. When he finished playing a new song on Wednesday, a fan in the unusually and sometimes distractingly interactive crowd bellowed, “Release that one!”

“No,” Church said. “These are only for you that are here. That’s what this is about.”

So, no, we can’t talk about what happened (maybe there will be time for that when it’s over). But we can talk about what it felt like.

I want you to meet two couples—Raegan and Eric are from Vermont. Chris and Melissa are from Michigan. They don’t know each other, but were seated near each other on Wednesday night. All are Church Choir members who managed to have the good fortune to score tickets to the residency show. Between them, they’ve seen nearly three dozen Church concerts—but none like this.

The song names have been removed to protect the innocent. But I can tell you that Raegan was in tears within minutes of Church taking the stage. She’d tried very hard to avoid any spoilers and entered the night with no expectations at all for what she might see. “The intimacy of this place is incredible,” she said while explaining why it impacted her so deeply. “To hear these stories is amazing. It’s the most magical thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”

They’d spent a large portion of their day at Chief’s, and they immediately identified what made it different. This was their first ever trip to Nashville, so they took the time to walk down Broadway. It felt as though the exact same predictable set list of covers was being played in every other bar. Not at Chief’s.

“We got here,” Eric said, “and over half the music the band was playing downstairs was original music. And now I see why. Because that’s the dream he was chasing and that’s the dream he wants other people to be chasing.”

Chris and Melissa were standing against the bar for part of the show. As they said, by this point in their Church fandom, they’ve seen almost every song in the catalog in a variety of forms, whether rocking an entire arena or played acoustically in a much smaller environment.

But no matter how many times they’ve heard it and no matter how many different ways they’ve heard it, it still impacts them. There was one particular song that was played Wednesday night that left both of them in tears. It took them back to the fall of 2014, when they’d purchased “The Outsiders” album for Melissa’s dad. They made plans to take him to the show at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut in late October, but he died unexpectedly just a few weeks before the show.

They went to that show without him, partially in tribute to him. They went to their upper level seats, where an anonymous usher eventually found them…and handed them floor tickets.

Even ten years later, they still feel him in every room where they see Church. How could you not?

There’s one point during the residency show when Church goes, without a second thought, from the depths of emotion with one song to the peak on the very next tune. Remember on the Outsiders Revival Tour when he was occasionally performing “Some Of It” and “Smoke a Little Smoke” back to back? It’s that kind of juxtaposition, hitting every range of emotion in just two songs. I have been to all six of the residency shows. I know what’s coming. And yet, at all six, during this portion of the show, I get literal goosebumps.

And I’m not alone.

“I was a mess,” Reagan says.

And then she was dancing in her seat on the very next song. That’s what it’s like to attend To Beat the Devil.

“Most modern music isn’t from the heart,” Chris said. “Eric Church’s always is. And that’s why we will always support him.”