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.”