Live music is vulnerable to all sorts of things – weather, malfunctioning equipment, power outages, travel delays, someone having an off night, etc. Headliners often have to cancel shows due to illness or family emergencies. It is highly unusual, however, to have an entire band and crew succumb to illness, leaving only the headliner standing. It takes a lot of people to put on a show these days, many of which you don’t see or know their names. This situation was put under the spotlight this past weekend at an Eric Church concert in Salt Lake City. With only himself to bring to the stage, and nothing more than a spotlight to announce his presence, Eric Church decided the show must go on and this would be no abbreviated version. He played a full 19-song acoustic set for his fans and delivered what few would have attempted. This certainly was not the fully amped show the audience was expecting, but it speaks volumes about the entertainer, the man, and the importance of the band and crew members.
We take a lot of things for granted at a live show, all the moving pieces and the people who contribute to that enormous sound and bright lights that fill the arena. At each new venue, the pieces of the concert puzzle have to be put together, and not just anyone can make that happen. Each crew member has a specific job to do and the expertise to know how to do it. They are not easily replaceable, especially on the spur of the moment when crunched for time. Should an entire crew go down or simply not show up, no one would knock on Eric Church‘s bus door and ask him to put his own stage together, move heavy equipment, or unload the trucks. Not that Eric would consider himself above doing any of these tasks or refuse to try, as many would, it just wouldn’t be asked of him. This is what he has crew members for, assuming they’re healthy and available.
What we hear and what we see at a concert is also dependent on a skilled group of people to hook things up, put them in the right places, and push the right buttons when the time comes. Having the equipment is one thing, knowing what to do with it is quite another, and essential to making that live music performance come together. Band members don’t walk onto the stage and start playing for an audience without first testing the sound of their instruments. This is what sound check is for. However, if their equipment never makes it off the truck, never gets hooked up, and the sound engineer is absent, welcome to the silence. The same holds true for turning that sound into a spectacle the audience can see and hear. Not that every concert needs to be a light show, but there is an importance to casting the right light on the right part of the stage at the right time. It would appear odd to highlight the guitar player during a drum solo. It would also be unusual not to put Eric Church under the spotlight while he was singing. All this doesn’t seem too complicated, but without the equipment in place and the guys who know how to run it, Eric’s “Dark Side” would be more than a song in the set list.
Let’s assume for a moment that everything got delivered, the sound and the lighting equipment is in its place, and the crew has assembled all the pieces. The sound and the lighting engineers are in their places and the lights in the arena go down indicating show time. Something’s missing. There are no instruments on the stage because the entire band has the flu. Suddenly that big sound you were expecting to hear is not in the building. How often do we show up at a concert, watch the headliner all night, and take the sound of the band and the musicians playing those instruments for granted? Most people won’t know their names and couldn’t pick them out of a lineup immediately following the concert, yet the sound we expect to hear at that concert is largely dependent on them. When was the last time you bought an acoustic album? Live music is all about putting the sound behind the singing, often in a very big, very loud way. Not to say that the headliner doesn’t contribute to that sound, but the full concert experience depends on having a band to back him/her up. If it’s the quality we’ve come to expect from an Eric Church concert, these will not be average musicians, and their presence cannot simply be replaced. What we may take for granted, Eric Church does not.
When Eric became aware that his band and crew would not be able to set things up and perform their duties at the show, he had a decision to make. The majority of headliners in his position would have canceled the show, rescheduled it, and left. This show has been rescheduled, but it was not canceled. With only a spotlight and an acoustic guitar, Eric took the stage as scheduled and played a full set that included 19 songs. This is not something he’d practiced nor was prepared to do on short notice, but not wanting to disappoint an arena full of fans, he showed up and gave it everything he had, as he would on any other night. For one of his most powerful songs, “That’s Damn Rock & Roll,” Lzzy Hale did join him on stage and together they were an acoustic powerhouse. Lzzy’s scream needs no amplifier, and neither did this song. It was an anthem for the entire evening.
As much as Eric Church was a one man band at this show, he understands better than most that no one is. He gets the importance of the people around him and probably knows every name. Being on the road for as long and as many dates as these guys often are, is a sacrifice for all of them, not just the guy whose name is on your concert ticket. Eric’s decision to perform in this situation was not only an indication of how much he values his fans, but how much he respects his band and crew by carrying on when they couldn’t. Despite the fact that the fans were expecting a different type of show that night, I doubt a single one of them left disappointed. Eric demonstrated what an entertainer does when the spotlight comes on, “Give all ya got till there ain’t nothin’ left,” even if you’re alone in the middle of it on an empty stage. Caring about his band and crew, that’s Eric the man. Pulling this off as only Eric Church could…… “That’s Damn Rock & Roll.”
From WAY North of Nashville……..Bev Miskus
WATCH Eric Church and Lzzy Hale perform “That’s Damn Rock & Roll” acoustically!
See Eric Church LIVE on The Outsiders World Tour: http://ericchurch.com/events/upcoming
Download Eric’s Grammy nominated album, The Outsiders, through iTunes: HERE
©2015 Bev Miskus