Ascend Amphitheater kicking off grand opening with Eric Church shows
Church unplugs, opens Nashville venue
"Where the hell's my band, man?" Eric Church strolled onstage strumming an acoustic guitar Thursday night at 9:30, the first headliner to play Nashville's new Ascend Amphitheater. On a typical night, a Church show owes as much to AC/DC as to Merle Haggard, but he stripped things down for the first of two sold-out shows at the 6,800-seat riverfront venue, opening with solo performances of singles Smoke a Little Smoke and Talladega. "I came out with those first two songs as my plan," he said. "I don't have one beyond that."
Bringing out the band. Church's stage included a bar at the back where band members could sit and drink while waiting for Church to call them up one by one. First up was Jeff Cease, who added electric guitar to Cold One and Livin' Part of Life. When he brought out his rhythm section, bassist Lee Hendricks and drummer Craig Wright, they sat on a couch to accompany him for three songs.
The dancing roadies. "It's gonna get way weirder, I promise," Church said at one point in the evening after a particularly ragged number. But it didn't get much weirder than Give Me Back My Hometown, during which members of Church's road crew came out behind him and did choreographed hand movements to the song. When Church finally realized what they were up to, he began laughing in the middle of the otherwise somber song.
No place to hide. "My favorite way to play a song is the way the song was written," Church said. But changing the arrangements of so many numbers meant Church kept the performances loose, and the sparse instrumentation left nothing to hide the occasional bum note or flubbed line. "This only works if you guys sing everything you know as loud as you can," he told the audience.
What he didn't sing. Church didn't play recent set-list regulars Springsteen and That's Damn Rock & Roll, opting for lesser-played numbers like Carolina and What I Almost Was instead. "There may be some things that you didn't think you were gonna hear that you're gonna hear," said Church, who'll play a second sold-out concert at the venue Friday. "And there may be some things you thought you were gonna hear that you won't hear till tomorrow night."
Fishing with a 3-year-old. Church closes his 90-minute show with a new song, Three Year Olds, he said was inspired by a fishing trip with his son Boone. "First time we went – first time — I gave him one of those Zebco rods, I showed him how to throw it out there, I baited the hook, had a little bobber on it," Church said as he introduced the song. "He threw it out; he reeled it in. And as I was reaching down to grab it to re-throw it, he just threw the whole damn rod in the water. As I went to get the rod, he threw the tackle box in the water. Now, I'm 38 years old, and I did not known that a fishing pole sank faster than a tackle box. I also did not know that if you hide truck keys in a garbage can, it's a damn good place to hide 'em."
The set list for Church's show follows:
- Smoke a Little Smoke
- What I Almost Was
- Cold One
- Livin' Part of Life
- Sinners LIke Me
- Drink in My Hand
- Give Me Back My Hometown
- Over When It's Over
- Jack Daniels
- Before She Does
- Keep On
- Like a Wrecking Ball
- How 'Bout You
- I'm Gettin' Stoned
- These Boots
- Three Year Olds