The Wait Staff At Eric Church’s First Gig Eventually Had To Run Him Off, And It’s My Favorite Story Ever

Eric Church country music
EC News

When Eric Church said “I like my country rockin’, how ’bout you?” he meant it.

You may recall he was infamously kicked off the Rascal Flatts tour in 2006 for playing too loud and going over his allotted set time. Well, unbeknownst to practically everyone at the time, that was nothing out of the ordinary for the then-rising country music superstar. He already had a track record of breaking rules and doing things his way.

Not too far down the road from where he recently recorded his 2021 triple album Heart & Soul used to sit an enticingly delicious place called Woodlands Barbecue. It was a local watering hole which is completely wood-paneled, rustic, no-frills, and is home to some damn good Carolina barbecue.

It’s hard to imagine now that he got his start at a small, unassuming barbecue joint nestled in the vast Blue Ridge Mountains, but he did.

Of course, in typical Church fashion, the wait staff eventually had to run him off because people would stay too long at their tables watching him.

More customer equals more tips… it’s not hard to see why they didn’t like him playing there so often. Personally, I cannot imagine a better meal than pulled-pork with a side of Eric Church crushing an acoustic version of “These Boots,” but I digress…

Actually, the first time he ever played at Woodlands, Eric only had 12 songs in his repertoire, thinking he’d play them, take a break, and then start over with new customers who had just come in for a meal:

“I was nervous this first time. I played my first gig at a place called Woodlands Barbecue that was in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. I was in a band… it was just the three of us and only two of us played instruments.

I went down to the place to get the gig by myself, and I remember giving them our CD that had two songs on it, and playing them for the women who owned the bar. She said, ‘Great! You start next Monday.’

And that next Monday, at six o’clock, we got there and we probably did twelve songs. What I thought was that we would play twelve songs, take a break, and everybody would leave — and then I would be able to play those same twelve songs for a different group of people.”

But that’s not what happened at all, he says:

“But nobody left (laughs). So the real terror was getting back up there for the second set and only knowing those twelve songs.

That was a pretty fearful moment. I made a deal with audience to put in any requests on a sheet of paper, and next week I would know every request on that paper.

But ya, I was a little nervous that night.”

Pretty quick thinking there, Mr. Church, in what was an early example of his natural talent and incomparable ability to entertain.

Luke Combs also played at Woodlands on Sundays back in his college days, cutting his teeth on the same bar circuit as his musical hero did years prior, which is a cool little fun fact for you, too.

Anywho, it wasn’t long after that before Eric, his late brother, his roommate, and another guitarist officially formed a band called The Mountain Boys, playing various bars and restaurants around Western North Carolina while he attended college at Appalachian State University.

Eric had become a regional act with a real grassroots following by the time he graduated in 2000, and as the story goes, Eric took his father up on the deal they’d made that his dad would fund his first year in Nashville so long as Eric finished college first.

In a 2013 interview with Appalachian Today, Eric detailed the struggle in finding balance holding up his end of the bargain:

“There were a lot of nights when I’d be driving up the mountain at 4 a.m. when I had an 8 o‘clock class.

I remember writing papers and homework at the 24-hour Waffle House on (Hwy.) 321 in Lenoir, then coming into class with hash brown and ketchup stains on the paper. I’d still not been to bed, and the professors knew what I was doing.

It about killed me, but it’s fun to look back on now.”

He’s certainly come a long way since then, to say the least.

And if that all isn’t North Carolina enough for ya, check out this video of him performing an acoustic version of “Love Your Love the Most” at a Walmart near his hometown back in 2009.

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock