WILKES-BARRE TWP. – One of the biggest stars in country music brought one of the biggest parties of the season to the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza on Friday night.
Eric Church, hot on the heels of two consecutive No. 1 singles and recently nominated for five CMA awards, made it clear from the get-go that this was not going to be a traditional country show.
He appeared in a puff of smoke in his customary baseball cap and shades, strumming an acoustic guitar as flames danced around the stage and his five-piece band kicked into the concert's first number, a super-charged version of "Country Music Jesus" from his top-selling album "Chief."
Sure, one of the musicians on stage played a banjo (and alternated on mandolin and acoustic guitar on other numbers), but the vibe was much more rock than country as Church's music probably has more in common with Southern rock bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd than Hank Williams.
It was high energy, high decibels and lots of pyrotechnics from that point forward, and the crowd loved every minute of it.
Friday's show was the second date of the second leg of Church's first arena-headlining tour, so the area country music fans in attendance caught the singer-songwriter at a very opportune time. If he keeps progressing at his current pace – or if he picks up all those industry-leading CMA awards -- he won't be in arenas much longer.
The two opening acts weren't too shabby either – both had recent No. 1 singles on the Billboard Country charts – as the early arrivals were treated to strong sets from Kip Moore and Justin Moore (the two singers are not related).
Kip Moore, originally from Tifton, Ga., released his debut album "Up All Night" earlier this year, and used his 30 minutes on stage wisely. His current single "Beer Money" was the highlight of the early going, while his chart-topper "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" proved to be a great way to close.
Justin Moore, originally from Arkansas and active since 2007, was up next, storming out of the gate with "This is NRA Country" and hitting his stride early with "‘Til My Last Day," which segued into a nice cover of The Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends."
Other Justin Moore highlights included "If Heaven Wasn't So Far Away," "Backwoods," and his crowd-pleaser "Small Town USA," which had nearly the entire crowd singing along.
Church took the stage at just after 9:30, following up the opener with one of his early hits "Guys Like Me," which could serve as the theme song for not only the rowdy Church but for most in his audience as well.
"Guys like me drink too much beer on Friday after work," he sang, and the enthusiastic party-goers knew exactly what he meant.
Other early highlights included "I'm Gettin' Stoned" and his ode to his favorite beverage "Jack Daniels."
More songs about drinking soon followed – after all, the tour is called "Blood, Sweat & Beers."
With his biggest hits such as "Drink in My Hand" and his most recent No. 1 "Springsteen" still to come, the party wasn't going to come to an end any time soon.