Two Nights at Church: Eric Church at The Anthem

Church is currently on his Gather Again Tour promoting his most recent Heart & Soul albums

The Chief took DC to Church with two very special performances at The Anthem this weekend (Dec 10th and 11th). The Music Universe was on hand for both shows.

The Anthem is a ballroom-style venue with a maximum capacity of 6,000. This made for uniquely intimate performances of Eric Church’s Gather Again Tour. On the first night, Church called the venue “One of my favorite rooms in all of America.”

But the smaller space did not mean any less of a show. Church and crew brought the entire arena production to the Anthem. The light show was 10x as powerful than in an 20,000-seat venue, which pulled in each audience member and made them feel as if they were right there on stage with Church as he and his band plowed through dozens of hit songs.

Known for his marathon concerts, the first night (Dec 10th) ran exactly two and a half hours, with a 30-song setlist. On the second night (Dec 11th), Church had the crowd on their feet for two hours and 45 minutes as he cranked out 32 songs. Both nights saw a great mix of classic Church hits, as well as newer music from albums including Desperate Man and Heart & Soul — the latter of which this tour is supporting. Each time a song from the release was played, the stage would be awash in the trilogy’s signature red, purple, and blue cover colors.

Much has been reported about Eric Church’s unique COVID bubble that allows him and his crew to tour safely at this level. But that has not stopped the country-rocker from fully interacting with fans while onstage. He took shots with people in the front rows, and he frequently signed posters and albums while singing. Vocalist Joanna Cotten threw some EC swag into the audience on at least one of the nights.

A long, T-shaped runway extended from the main stage halfway into the ballroom. The Anthem is set up so that those who paid for general admission (and got through the doors early enough to claim a spot) could get right up next to the stage. This gave most fans at the concerts an equal opportunity to get up close and personal with Church in a way not possible at other venues on this tour.

It is hard to say what you, dear reader, will get when you go to an Eric Church concert. One night he might play “Higher Wire,” as he did the first night. Or, he might crank out “Country Music Jesus,” which was present only on Saturday night. Or–he might throw out the setlist you’ve been staring at all night in the last 20 minutes and throw in “The Outsiders” and “Lightning.” (Both concert rarities closed out the Saturday night show.)

One thing is for certain: You will hear the angelic and twangy harmonies of Longtime Church collaborator Cotten. Cotten “whoops his ass” — Eric’s words — on “Like Jesus Does.” The ballad stops the show. Other than staples including “How ‘Bout You,” “Creepin,” and “Springsteen,” it is anybody’s guess what songs will be played. Church’s setlists are like Pokemon trading cards: Gotta catch ‘em all!

The loose nature of the setlist adds another dimension to Eric Church’s concerts that have made him a must-see live. The show feels like something you could see in any bar or country music hall across the US. This is a point of pride for Church, who remarked on playing the 9:30 Club, another venue owned by the parent company that runs the Anthem. He remarked that both the 9:30 Club and the Anthem “reminds me of those days,” playing in bars.

Another showstopper is “These Boots.” It has become tradition for members of the Church Choir (what the Great Sunglassed One calls his fans) to throw a boot onstage in the hopes he’ll sign and return it. On Saturday night, the Chief encouraged a balcony member to toss her boot down. He signed it and heartily tossed it back. Surprisingly, it landed right where it was supposed to.

That’s the other thing about an Eric Church show: each night is different because the people are different. The loudest screams on Saturday night came as Church held up an Army flag handed to him by an audience member. On both nights, Church was handed American flag scarves by fans and wore them draped around his neck all night long.

The Chief said he wanted to tour as soon as possible because, “We are meant to be together. We are not meant to be scared of each other. We are meant to love each other.” And if this one incredible weekend at Anthem is any indication, in 2022 there will be plenty more opportunities for all of us to Gather Again.

Matt Bailey
Matt Bailey

Matt Bailey is podcast producer and writer located in the Northeast. Since 2013, Bailey has produced more than 160 episodes of his own online radio show, Talk For Two. In 2016 alone, he interviewed Kevin Bacon, Crystal Gayle, Bob Barker, and Gilbert Gottfried, among several other stars. As a Correspondent for The Music Universe, his focus is Broadway, country music and concert reviews.