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4/29/24 residency show

The Establishment

It’s been an eventful few days for Eric Church.

Over the weekend, he was in California for the Stagecoach Festival. You might have heard about his headlining performance on Friday night, when he eschewed the usual festival “play the hits” format and instead gave the crowd an elaborate, inventive performance of “Mistress Named Music” that incorporated well over a generation’s worth of songs.

Late on Sunday night, he joined Morgan Wallen on stage to perform “Man Made a Bar,” then made the cross-country flight back to Nashville. He arrived home less than 12 hours before he was scheduled to take the stage for the fourth edition of his “To Beat the Devil” residency, which was yet again sold out, packed, and eagerly anticipated by every member of the Church Choir who had managed to secure one of the coveted tickets.

And that energy was revitalizing. If you’ve ever taken one of those redeye cross country flights, you know that the following day can be lethargic. Your time zones are out of whack. You didn’t get enough sleep.

So the only way he could have performed, really, was to do it in his “living room,” as he likes to call the stage at the Neon Steeple. He was unquestionably their person. It’s become fairly standard for attendees at the residency show to be from all corners of the United States, plus at least a handful of Canadian visitors, and occasionally some international fans. They arranged their vacations and planned their time off from work around this show.

But it’s reciprocal. In the same way that he is their person, these are his people. You could tell even before the show began, when the crowd spontaneously started singing along to “Take This Job and Shove It.” They weren’t here to be influencers or to get a photo for the ‘gram. They were here for the music, and for the person singing it.

The residency shows are a nice reminder that it hasn’t always been perfect. Not everyone fully understood the Stagecoach performance, and that’s not uncharted territory in the Church career arc. As he discusses in the residency shows, there have been challenges at virtually every stage of his career, from disheartening meetings with record executives to his label informing him he was out of money to two very unorthodox ideas—which landed with a thud—during the campaign for The Outsiders album. Even his suggestion for what would become the iconic cover of the Chief album wasn’t originally well received.

He doesn’t have to try new things anymore. He has enough hits to spend 90 minutes playing them and everyone goes home happy. Remember, we are talking about someone who had no problem constructing an entire tour around playing a three-hour set with no opener.

On the back wall of the Neon Steeple are 20 stained glass windows that feature Church’s strongest influences. Monday night, he pointed out Bob Seger and Kris Kristofferson, but there are 18 more, and all of them have something in common: they weren’t afraid to try new ideas.

READ MORE: The Stories Behind the Stained Glass

Church’s set at Stagecoach followed Jelly Roll, who has been a comet across the country music sky. The pair know each other through a series of appearances on the same stage, including a couple of dates on last summer’s Outsiders Revival tour. On one of those post-show evenings, the duo sat down together at Jelly’s request for one very specific reason.

“I wanted to talk to him about every single decision he’s made in his career,” Jelly Roll said. “I took notes like a student. Because if country music has had a rule in any era, he’s broken it. It’s nothing for him to say I know that’s how everyone else does it, but that’s not how I do it.”

And that’s how Church built the type of fan base that will sell out a 19-show residency without the tickets ever going to public sale, and then travel from all over the map to the building that bears his name to experience it together. On Monday night, for 389 of those very lucky fans, he recounted an impactful meeting between a Nashville executive, Church, and Church’s longtime manager, John Peets.

The conclusion to the meeting?

“You guys,” the executive said to Church and Peets, “are fucking nuts.”

Church, of course, told the story with a wide grin. Maybe he is. But remember: it ain’t about the t-shirt the establishment’s trying to sell. It’s about a guy with the balls who told the establishment to go to hell.