Eric Church plays solo, Salt Lake City, 2015
There's an artist from Texas named Obsessed by Paul James. A one man band that plays guitar, violin, and banjo like a madman is one of the best performers ever seen live, if you get the chance. Seeing him play is less of a performance and more of a religious experience.
The performances of Possessed by Paul James are flawless most of the time, despite being totally improvised. But every now and then something goes wrong. His guitar shorts out, or he stings or something, and he immediately starts singing a cappella, clapping his hand and stamping his feet. I always pray in secret for one of these occasions. Because it is in these spontaneous moments of adversity that the greatest magic often happens.
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Eric Church fans who have tickets to his show on Friday night in Pittsburgh (10 am-8pm) and Saturday night in Philadelphia (10 am-9am) have just been informed that some of Church's band have contracted COVID. So just to be on the safe side, the band and crew won't take part in the shows this weekend. But since Church was traveling separately, he'll get on with the gigs, just him and his guitar.
Sure, if you've worked all week and looked forward to getting your face rocked this weekend by the kind of rough show that Eric Church puts live, you may feel a sense of disappointment at the news. But I'm here to tell you you're lucky. You will get a reward.
Every town on Eric Church's current Gather Again tour will get the same basic show, except for a few changes to the setlist. But these Pennsylvania gigs are going to be special. As Eric Church has proven several times over the years, he can hold an entire audience with just one microphone and acoustic guitar. Actually, it shines there.
A similar scenario occurred in 2015 when Church's entire crew and band fell ill with stomach flu in Salt Lake City. Traveling separately again while everyone else puked their guts backstage, Eric Church came out with an acoustic guitar and put on a show that fans still rave about.
In 2019, Eric Church decided to perform a 17-song acoustic medley at the CMA Fest in Nashville instead of performing with his band. Church had just played at Nissan Stadium three weeks earlier and just didn't want to play the same show in the same location twice. Once again the moment was more epic than performing with your whole band.
The special thing about these moments is, of course, that they are rare and unique. It cannot serve as the impetus for an entire arena tour. But make no mistake, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, you won the lottery here, and only one that an artist like Eric Church can deliver.
It makes you wonder how many of today's mainstream country stars beyond Eric Church could actually pull it off? Brad Paisley and Keith Urban could. Regardless of what you think of their music, they are both accomplished guitarists on both acoustic and electric instruments. Blake Shelton can and does songs acoustically. Miranda Lambert can hold a lot on just an acoustic guitar, as she did recently at Austin City Limits with Jon Randall and Jack Ingram. Hell, even Taylor Swift could and has done in the past.
But these are still the "old guard" kind of mainstream country music. It used to be a requirement to be a great acoustician before they even thought of giving you a major label deal. But could Breland or Kane Brown do it? Of course not. Dan + Shay or Walker Hayes? Not nearly. Maybe they could hold a lot of people for a song or two, but not a whole concert less than 12 hours in advance. They are just not good enough.
But Eric Church is one of those rare performers who not only make it, but also excel at it. Where other entertainers may have canceled the whole thing or would not be able to perform an entire musical repertoire with just one acoustic guitar, someone like Eric Church shines in difficult times. This is also one of the reasons he is the current CMA entertainer of the year.
Congratulations Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, luck has smiled at you lovingly.