THIS IS MY HOMETOWN!
So I'm hanging with Tony D. upstairs, waiting for the Eric Church V.I.P. experience. They sell it according to the size of the room. In L.A. that's 200 people, for $200 apiece. How can that BE?
And we're killing time in the museum to the man. With framed letters from icons like Taylor Swift, thanking Eric for getting kicked off the Rascal Flatts tour so she could get the gig, and I'm fingering the Lucchese boots you can only buy here, with Eric's lyrics etched into the bottom, then I hear that whoop of recognition, Eric has arrived.
Here's the deal. The V.I.P. experience includes some food…and an acoustic appearance by the man himself.
And I'm talking to Louis Messina. I'm a jaded old coot, I've seen it all, and then Eric starts to strum.
He's wearing his aviators, but no hat. He's making small talk and then he starts to sing and I begin to tingle…THIS IS IT!
You can go see the local act play at the bar and get as close as you want to. But once they make it, once they have fans across this great country of ours, you can read about their travails in the gossip pages, but you're never going to ever get up close and personal.
But here he was!
And everybody's got their phone in the air, not only shooting pics, but making videos. There's all this bullcrap about possessions, but you can't buy a $10,000 iPhone, no, the reality is today it's all about experiences, and the fans in attendance were peaking and freaking…AND SO WAS I!
This is the only place you can get this, the only way you can get this adoration is by playing music. And the hit is INCREDIBLE!
That's right, you can be a legendary actor, you can be a billionaire, but you're never going to get the response Eric Church got from the assembled multitude Friday night.
The connection between musical performer and fan. Not lip-synching, playing to hard drive, but giving you an unimpeachable, totally unique acoustic rendition of songs you know by heart.
"Give me back my hometown
'CAUSE THIS IS MY HOMETOWN!!"
So what happens at an Eric Church show?
First and foremost it sells out, which ain't easy at Staples, where there's an upper deck above three tiers of skyboxes that is so high it might as well come with oxygen.
And there's no fakery. Just a drummer and four guitars. You remember bands, don't you? Don't pooh-pooh country music, you haven't given it a chance. It's everything you yearn for. Honest, played by real musicians, singing about real life. The only difference is the accent. But if you read the "New York Times," you know the northerners are migrating down south, that's where everybody's going.
So there's this white goateed slide guitarist who's bringing me right back to the seventies, my body is twisting and turning as he wails. I start to ponder how good he is compared to Duane Allman, but then I remember no one even does this anymore. And if you hadn't been around back then, you'd be inspired to play. Remember that? Seeing your heroes up on stage and buying an instrument to get closer to the music yourself?
And then there's the hard work. First time through L.A. Eric played at the Whisky, to six people. Ten years ago. When he was already 27. Tell that to the barely pubescent stars they keep telling us have something to say and will last forever. That's right, Justin Bieber's doing a roast because he's a joke!
And sure, Eric plays the hits, but the set is different every night, because if it's not fun for the people making the music, the audience can tell. Because, after all, when done right live music is a religious experience.
And then he played "Dancing In The Dark."
It was the intro to his big hit "Springsteen." Because the thread runs through rock and roll all the way from New Jersey to Nashville.
And it is about hits. They're the tree you hang the ornaments upon.
And the best hits are songs.
You remember songs, don't you? Those things you can sing along to in the car?
So what did we learn?
That country is a big tent. Dwight Yoakam held down the middle and Halestorm opened, one of the highlights came when Eric called out Lizzy Hale to shred with him. It's powerful to see a woman with an Explorer pick.
And the audience was 50/50 boys and girls. Some come for the stories, some come for the gut-wrenching playing, but they all want to put their hands in the air and sing along.
Because deep into the set, I heard that intro straight out of Petty's "Love Is A Long Road" and then…
"Damn, I used to love this view"
Living to listen to the music. Making pilgrimages to the store to visit the records, with the elixir of life locked inside.
"All the colors of my youth
The red, the green, the hope, the truth"
What kind of bizarre world do we live in where we lionize the rich and the no-talents? One wherein old guys in black tell us to love records by people who can't sing and can't play while the pop chart is ruled by people who are faces only.
"My friends try to cheer me up, get together at the Pizza Hut"
And talk about the good old days. The Fillmore. The Stones. The Who. All the classic rock.
"These sleepy streetlights on every sidewalk side street
Shed a light on everything that used to be"
The oldsters dye their hair, get plastic surgery and put out new albums that are unlistenable, wanting us to believe it's 1975 when that was forty years ago.
And then you stumble into an arena and find 20,000 people who are not jaded, who know every word and sing along, just like we used to, to a guy who knows history but is not imprisoned by it, who wants to carry on the tradition, but in his own vision.
And I've got my arm in the air, exclaiming to the rafters with all my might:
"Give me back my hometown
'CAUSE THIS IS MY HOMETOWN"
It's great to get back to where you once belonged.
I know, because I went there Friday night.