To really understand how Eric Church feels about the Holdin’ My Own Tour, you have to see things from his perspective standing at the mic. For the last five months, country music’s most electric performer has stood face-to-face with nearly 1 million people and truly connected.
“This tour has been my career’s biggest challenge physically, but I can honestly say I’m gonna miss it,” shared Church after a record-setting, 42-song set at Saturday’s show (that went well into Sunday morning). “Seeing what happens between us and the crowd for over three hours a night is awe inspiring. I’m gonna miss seeing those faces and freezing that moment in time night after night.”
The No. 1 most-attended music tour in the world in 2017 (Pollstar) included 62 sold-out shows across North America, each unique in its own way with just Church and his band relentlessly grinding out memorable moment after memorable moment with over three dozen or more songs each night. That’s the way it’s always been for Church, from his first shows in front of a few dozen to the record-setting, two-night stand at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena that drew 38,016 fans (18,996 on Friday and 19,020 on Saturday, setting the new attendance record for the venue) to close the tour.
“The first time we played in Nashville, we played for – I’m not kidding – 30, 40 people, and when they left that show they told 10 or 20 people about what they’d seen,” Church told the crowd Friday night at Bridgestone Arena. “And the next time we played this town, 200 people showed up. Here’s the thing I can say for myself and this band: We’ve never gone out on stage and played for 20 or 30 people. Every night we played, we played it because there were 50,000 people in front of us. It was never about how many, it was about the music. It was about the heart of the music.”
And that’s something that everyone is picking up on, not just Church’s fervent fans. His peers and the critics have been paying tribute all along the way.
“It reminded me of the way Waylon treated other musicians,” Ray Wylie Hubbard, the singer-songwriter and Church favorite, said in a glowing Nashville Scene cover story. “Waylon had that idea of respect. … I’m pretty sure it’s nice he’s selling a lot of records. But what’s more important is the feeling he gets, the joy he gives his fans. He lays it on the line and writes from a place where the real badass, cool songwriters write from. I have a lot of respect for him, not as a big-shot entertainer but as a songwriter.”
The critics lined up to agree this winter and spring, digging the way Church constructed his show “like a classic box set” (Erik Ernst, Journal Sentinel) with “the attitude of rock ‘n’ roll, transgression and a little sin.” (John Adamian, The Courant). Rolling Stone raved that Church “sets the bar for country concerts” at his show at Brooklyn Barclays Center, “taking a page from Bruce Springsteen.” “In a relatively short time Eric Church has firmly established himself as one of the best live performers of his generation,” wrote Thom Jennings in the Niagara Gazette. “His albums keep getting progressively better as do his live shows. It may only be a matter of time before he is too big for hockey arenas and will start headlining stadium shows.”
“You can’t truly grasp how strong it is until you’re one of 19,020 in the stands,” wrote Dave Paulson of the bond between Church and his huge following (deemed the “Church Choir”) at Saturday’s show for The Tennessean. “Sure, it’s an easy pun, but ‘Choir’ is an apt name for Church’s faithful. If you didn’t already know which songs were radio singles, there was no way to know at Saturday’s show. This room knew every verse of every song, from the floor to the upper deck. That was never clearer than on ‘Give Me Back My Hometown,’ when the ‘Choir’ nearly drowned out Church’s band.”
Church strives to make every show unique and the Holdin’ My Own Tour was full of special moments, from unique setlists each night to new collaborations and covers and many stops. He paid tribute to Gregg Allman on Saturdaynight in Nashville just hours after the legend’s death with a cover of The Allman Brothers Band’s “Midnight Rider.” And earlier this month he paid tribute to Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell with his version of the “hillbilly Black Sabbath crossover” (Rolling Stone) song “Rusty Cage,” a Soundgarden favorite. On Friday night at Bridgestone, he trotted out an old favorite “Tennessee Jed” by The Grateful Dead. Other memorable moments on tour included his cover of Pearl Jam’s “Better Man” in Tacoma. Along the way there were also versions of The Band’s “Don’t Do It,” Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken” and The Temptations’ “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.” In the Windy City, he took on blues standard “Sweet Home Chicago” and brought in his favorite singer-songwriter Ashley McBryde to perform her composition, “Bible and a .44.”
Church was joined by Deep Purple vocalist Glenn Hughes and longtime Rolling Stones touring keyboardist Chuck Leavell at his Colorado stop. The trio performed The Guess Who’s “American Woman” in a classic moment no one there will ever forget.
Moments like these have created a special bond between Church and his fans, who often stand all the way through his nearly four-hour shows. That bond has made Church one of country music’s most bankable stars, and The Chief flexed his muscle on the road this year. The tour set many records, including occupying all top five spots on the May 15 Billboard Country Boxscore with sellouts in Tampa, Florida, Greenville, South Carolina, Uncasville, Connecticut, Cincinnati, Ohio, and Pittsburgh – a run that included more than 81,000 fans. He broke the attendance record in Jacksonville– where 13,854 fans filled the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. And he did all this despite cancelling 33,000 tickets listed on the secondary market due to scalper activity, something he abhors.
While the Holdin’ My Own Tour is over, fans will have a handful of chances to catch Church before the end of 2017 – though they are precious few. The Chief will play CMA Fest at Nashville’s Nissan Stadium Friday, June 9, at 10 p.m. And Church has announced eight more standalone shows in 2017:
June 23rd Cadott, WI at Country Fest
Sept. 2nd and 3rd Stateline, NV at Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys**
Sept 7th, 2017 Austin, TX at Austin 360 Amphitheater+
Sept. 8th, 2017 Houston, TX at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion+
Sept 15th, 2017 Tuscaloosa, AL at Tuscaloosa Amphitheater*
Sept 16th, 2017 Orange Beach, AL at The Wharf Amphitheater*
Sept 21st and 22nd Gilford, NH at Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion***
Sept 23rd Bangor, ME at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion***
Sept. 29th Las Vegas, NV at Route 91 Festival+
*With special guests Brothers Osborne and Ashley McBryde
**Margo Price opening
+ Elle King and The Texas Gentlemen opening
***Special guests announced soon