Shelby Lum / Lantern photographer
As I walked into Nationwide Arena I noticed three things: there were more flannel shirts in one place than I have ever seen before, an excess of dirty ball caps and a multitude of mile-long beer lines. This alone would have been enough to make Eric Church himself smile.
Church is a straight shooter when it comes to country music. He sings simple songs, typically about drinking and growing up in the South.
“We came here to party, drink, sing and kick your ass, Columbus,” an excited Church yelled as his set began at his Thursday concert at Nationwide Arena.
Mainstream country has moved to a new era. It’s an era in which country stars use hard electric riffs, show off facial hair, piercings and tattoos and prefer ball caps over cowboy hats. The show came off more like rock than country music.
Church is at the center of this new movement.
Church, known for his long sets, played a lively show with the seemingly loyal Columbus fans. It was unlike any country concert I have ever been to. Church screamed as he ran back and forth on stage with an energy that was unmatched.
The quality of Church’s performance was average, but it did not matter. The crowd cared more about what he was saying rather than how he was saying it.
Church played all his hits and the crowd sang along to songs such as “Guys Like Me.”
“So rough around the edges / It’s hard to believe / That girls like you / Love guys like me,” Church sang.
It was during this performance in which Church grabbed an Ohio State cap that had been tossed on stage and wore it for the remainder of the song.
It was a great performance from a great performer. Church’s jump toward superstar success will not be slowing down any time soon.
Southern rock band Blackberry Smoke started the show with an excellent set comprised of original compositions as well as classic covers from bands such as The Allman Brothers Band. Blackberry Smoke might have been the best performance of the night. I doubt this is the last we will hear of them.
“Y’all raise hell now and let ’em know you’re here tonight,” Paul Jackson, member of Blackberry Smoke, screamed.
This theme continued through the night as special guest Brantley Gilbert came on stage. Gilbert was welcomed by the nearly full Columbus crowd with a raucous ovation.
No matter how unclear the lyrics were, and despite the lack of big-time stage presence, the crowd loved anything Gilbert did. He could seemingly do no wrong.
Gilbert received the loudest reaction when he sang his single “Country Must Be Country Wide.” The top nearly blew off the arena as the crowd sang, “I was gassing up the other day / An old boy pulled up with a license plate / From Ohio I thought, oh, good lord, he’s lost. “
He was the perfect act to open for Church. He was real country singer singing real songs for real people.