When Eric Church was putting together his Outsiders World Tour, launching September 11th in Bossier City, Louisiana, he took the trek’s title to heart. He developed an unconventional new stage, threw out a regular setlist and enlisted not populist radio stars as support acts, but genre-crossing rebels with a certain indescribable cool. Country traditionalist Dwight Yoakam will appear on all dates of the tour’s 32-city first leg, with rootsy duo Brothers Osborne, singer-songwriter Brandy Clark and hard-rock outfit Halestorm each performing a select number of shows. (Watch an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour preview with Church above.)
“It’s called the Outsiders Tour, so we were trying to show what that is,” Church tells Rolling Stone Country a week prior to the tour kickoff. “Dwight Yoakam is an obvious [example]. I was stunned that when we asked he said yes. Brothers Osborne, I’ve known them a while and they try to do it a different way. Halestorm, everyone knows Lzzy Hale, we’ve done a couple performances together. And then we have Brandy, who I think made the best album in country music in the past year.”
Dressed in jeans, a black t-shirt and his requisite aviator sunglasses, the lithe, road-ready Church stands on the upper deck of Nashville’s downtown dinosaur, the Municipal Auditorium, where he and his band have been rehearsing, and gestures at his space-age stage below. “It’s like a giant Transformer,” he says. Designed to play to fans on all sides and even inside the stage, the behemoth is Church’s version of the “in the round” experience.
“I went out and opened a couple shows with George Strait. It was the first time I had ever been in that scenario in an arena. I was surprised by how intimate it felt,” says Church, who released his fourth studio album, The Outsiders, last February. “We come from bars and clubs and I miss that intimacy, which you always try to grab. The bigger the room, the smaller you want that room to feel.”
“I saw Bruce Springsteen this year at Bridgestone do it,” he says, recalling an April show in Nashville’s modern hockey arena. “It would never make sense logically that by [playing in the round] the people back there would be such a part of it. But they’re integral. And we designed it that way.”
Church, however, won’t be designing a concrete set list. He promises no two shows will be alike. “Every night, different setlist,” he smirks, exhibiting some of the trademark cockiness that has made him such a working-class hero to his fans. “It’s a challenge for us, but that’s our problem.”