News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Music

January 26, 2012

Expectations ramp up for Church on way to top

Artist insists he hasn’t forgotten where he started, even after single hits No. 1

In Terre Haute

• What: Eric Church’s Blood, Sweat and Beers Tour

• When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

• Where: Terre Haute’s Hulman Center

It was opening night for the 2012 portion of Eric Church’s Blood, Sweat and Beers Tour.

His bus pulled into the Fort Smith Convention Center in Arkansas, where more buses, trucks, stages and equipment buzzed with activity.

“I damn near had a panic attack,” the singer-songwriter said by telephone Tuesday from Nashville, Tenn. “I was like, ‘Who the hell’s paying for all this?’”

Expectations, crowd sizes and sales have all ramped up for Church since the release of his 2011 album “Chief” and its hit single “Drink In My Hand,” which climbed to No. 1 on the Billboard Country charts. Still, the 34-year-old North Carolina native insists he hasn’t forgotten the path he took to this point. Church started playing clubs at age 17, graduated from Appalachian State University with a marketing degree, passed on a corporate career and eventually signed a songwriting contract in Music City. In 2006, he began touring and performing as a recording artist.

“We’ve scraped a long time, and I think that’s part of the reason it’s so satisfying,” he said.

The lean days remain fresh in his mind. “I understand what that means and where we came from. We’ve played every sewer in America,” Church said.

Today, with sellout crowds awaiting, his BS&B Tour has taken him and the band from Arkansas, to Missouri and Mississippi, and then to Michigan before hitting Terre Haute’s Hulman Center for Saturday night’s 7:30 show, opened by Jon Pardi and Brantley Gilbert.

Church and company will perform several songs from his latest album. On the disc, he and producer Jay Joyce pursued some off-the-beaten-Nashville-path sounds and story lines. That includes the first song Church has ever recorded that he didn’t help write — “Like Jesus Does.” The song toasts a girl, a believer, who sticks by him and forgives him, “even when I can’t.”

Boundaries and formats went out the window on the album. “I guess it’s more fearless, lyrically and musically,” Church said. On “Like Jesus Does,” Church rehearsed the song alone a couple times after hearing a demo sent to him by a songwriting friend, stepped up to a microphone along with a drummer and bassist, and recorded what became the keeper version. “That’s something that just doesn’t happen in Nashville,” he said.

“It’s a sparse sounding song,” Church added.

The free-form sound appeals to him, and may set a path for his musical offerings in the future.

“On this record, I did not worry one time what the label was going to think, what the radio would think, or what the fans would think,” he said.

Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

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