Eric Church Connects His Own Memories With Melodies During Intimate ‘To Beat The Devil’ Residency At His Nashville Bar, Chief’s

Eric Church
Eric Church

It’s funny how a melody sounds like a memory.

There’s nobody in country music who’s better at helping fans connect melodies with memories than Eric Church. The Chief knows all too well the power of a song, and for his Church Choir fan club, hearing those opening piano notes to “Springsteen” or that guitar groove of “Record Year” can immediately transport them back to another time and place.

But with his To Beat the Devil residency at his new Nashville bar, Chief’s, Church spends two hours connecting his melodies with his own memories.

When Eric announced the 19-show residency with the opening of his new bar, he promised fans something different. And he delivered.

(Just a quick warning, this may contain some minor spoilers, so if you’re attending one of these shows and want it to be a surprise, stop reading).

Far from the bombastic, rocking shows that Eric usually delivers, his residency features Church onstage solo – just him and his guitar. (Well, six of them actually). And while there’s music, including plenty of new and unreleased songs, it’s the stories that get him to the songs that are the star of the show.

For Church’s 40,000 fan club members, the opportunity to see these shows was a little like winning a golden ticket. With the Neon Steeple venue holding only around 450 people for 19 shows, that means that less than 10,000 people are going to be lucky enough to go to one of these residency dates.

But for those who do, it’s like sitting in Church’s living room as he takes you on a journey through his career – the highest of highs and the brutal lows and everything in between.

From moving to Nashville to try to land his first record deal, to being told that he wasn’t wanted on Broadway, to finally getting his break and then almost losing everything he’d worked for before releasing his career-changing album Chief’s, Eric isn’t afraid to dive deep into the road he’s been on since loading up his two-tone Chevy Blazer in Granite Falls, North Carolina and moving to Nashville to chase a dream.

It wasn’t all about his career though. Because as much as he talked about his struggles to make it in country music, intertwined with that are the things he’s had to deal with in his own personal life – the things that influenced not only the music but the man behind the aviators.

And Church held nothing back. He talked about the blood clot that nearly took his life, and the horrific massacre at the Route 91 Harvest Festival that claimed members of the Church Choir among the victims. And in one of the more emotional new songs that he debuted during the show, he talked about the loss of his brother back in 2018 and the struggles that he still faces to get over losing one of his biggest fans.

That was a theme for the evening: Each story led to a song, each melody connecting to a memory.

But as much as the night was about Church connecting his own memories with melodies, it was much the same for the 450 people or so who were lucky enough to come along for the ride.

It’s a large part of why Church has been so successful for so long in an industry that’s often more of a pit stop than a racetrack like the one he sings about in Talladega. His music connects in a way that few artists are able to do, snapping photos of moments in time along the way, especially for fans like the Church Choir who have been with him every step of the journey.

As Church performed “How ‘Bout You,” it took me back to the first time I ever saw him in concert. It was on the riverfront in Huntington, West Virginia while I was in college, not long after Sinners Like Me came out. There couldn’t have been more than 500 people there, because that’s about all the place holds.

When he performed “Springsteen,” it took me to 2014 when I drove to Birmingham from New Orleans while I was on Thanksgiving break during law school. There was a girl there that I couldn’t stop thinking about, and I had talked her into going to the concert with me.

Flash forward a few years later and I found myself at yet another Eric Church concert with that same girl who was now my fiancée, singing “Record Year” along with a record-setting crowd at Nissan Stadium.

And the last concert we went to together, we had our arms around each other and singing “Holdin’ My Own,” just a few months before she passed away.

By the time Church got to “Man Who Was Gonna Die Young” and talked about his own mortality while recalling the blood clot that nearly took his life, it was hard to hold back the tears.

But as he wrapped the evening with “Hell of A View,” I thought back to the first Chief concert I went to after I lost my fiancée, last summer on the Outsiders Revival Tour, just one of the many times over the last year that have helped me heal and realize that everything’s going to be ok.

Each song was not only a moment in his life, but a moment in mine too. And I know that everybody in that room felt the same way.

It’s frustrating to see a show like this and then see Eric constantly snubbed by the awards shows. There’s nobody out there who could pull of what he does – or would even try. Hell, he’s a big part of the reason I work for Whiskey Riff in the first place.

Back in 2017, after Church was snubbed for Entertainer of the Year at the CMA Awards, it was their calling it out that first got my attention. A year later, I decided to shoot my shot and see if they’d let me write for them, and in 2023 I finally came on full time. None of that would have happened without Eric Church.

It’s funny how a melody sounds like a memory.

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