As country music legend Bill Anderson introduced the final performer during the Grand Ole Opry's show on Saturday, January 11, Nashville's Ryman Auditorium erupted with thunderous applause. Eric Church was greeted to a lengthy standing ovation prior to even singing a note or strumming a single chord.
Accompanied with only his electric guitar, Eric, clad in his leather jacket and signature shades, addressed the attentive crowd.
"I've missed being here at the Opry, we ain't been here in a while. I was gonna play this real introspective songwriter stuff, but then you guys are just rowdy, like you always are," he laughed.
He continued, "So I'll tell you what. I'll give you a little bit of both. We got a new album coming out in February, so I'm gonna play you a song or two nobody's heard, tonight."
He launched his set with "Give Me Back My Hometown," his latest single. His vocals, dripping with emotion, echoed through the relatively small venue. If there is one thing fans can count on during an Eric Church performance, it's passion and believability. The material is so fresh that Eric missed the line, "My friends try to cheer me up" during the song's live debut.
"My son is at his first Opry performance; he's two years old. I'm gonna play this song, nobody's heard this song, it's on the next album, and it's the first time. There was a time in my youth that I never thought I would ever be thirty-six years old. I thought I would punch the clock a long time ago with how I've lived," Eric declared.
He followed that statement with "A Man Who's Gonna Die Young." In a catalog that bridges multiple musical genres, this philosophical tune is a standout.
The self-proclaimed Church Choir was in full force at the Nashville show. Random shouts of "Sinners" and "Springsteen" could be heard from fans scattered across the venue. Unlike typical Opry performances, most audience members opted to stand through the entire duration of Eric's set.
"Drink In My Hand," Eric's first number one single, prompted a group sing along, complete with hand clapping and howling. It was a musical departure from his super-amped version with his full band, but still incredibly captivating.
"I was talking about my son; I was talking about Boone earlier. There's a song on the new album, it's called, "Dark Side," and it's that thing that I think that every dad or every parent [experiences] when you have a child, it's that primal protective thing. This song is about that," Eric allowed.
Eric's stop-you-in-your-tracks "Dark Side" was a fitting final number of his four song set.
The intimacy of hearing a musician perform a self-penned song with just a guitar accompanying him is truly a rarity in an industry where auto-tune and production tricks rule. Eric Church has certainly mastered the act of creating meaningful art while remaining true to his roots. His artistic maturity has taken him to another level and his performance at the Grand Ole Opry proved that.
Eric Church summed up his new material best when he aptly he told the Opry crowd, "As far as The Outsiders record, it is the sh**."