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Eric Church Gets Personal at CMA Songwriters Series

Rick Diamond, Getty Images

The CMA Songwriters Series has become a sought after ticket. Case in point: two sold-out shows in one day, November 2, in New York City. Hosted by Bob DiPiero, the evening included performances by Eric Church, Carolyn Dawn Johnson and Luke Laird. While fans may be used to the tracks recorded by their favorite artists, there was something special witnessing the song in its original form. Paired with an acoustic guitar, alternating songwriters explained the stories behind their hits.

“One of the great singer-songwriters we have here right now making real music with real musicians — a real songwriter, Eric Church,” Bob said before Eric began the night with ‘Before She Does.’ With aggressive guitar strumming and powerful vocals, Eric’s performance impressed.

Midway through CMT On Tour with Miranda Lambert and Josh Kelley, Eric explained that the CMA series showcases a different element of music for country fans.

“Tonight I get to sit up there and be a little more real; in songwriter mode. To me, there are two sides: songwriter and artist. I get to show my songwriter’s side and talk about the songs.”

And that he did.

Midway through the show, a fan passed along a note that requested ‘Two Pink Lines.’ After he promised to play it, he told the all too real tale behind his second single.

“I have to preface this a little bit. I have this song about pregnancy. It’s a little bit of a personal song for me, because two pink lines happened to me when I was unmarried and a teenager,” Eric confessed. “When I first played this for my mom, I was expecting her to be really bothered by it. She goes, ‘I love that song. Why are you singing about two pink lions?’ I said, ‘Mom, I happen to love lions; I’m a big cat fan.’ It took her a long time to figure it out.”

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With no set-list, the night was laid-back as each artist took requests from the audience. Though Eric performs on a nightly basis he admitted he forgets his own songs, Tuesday night being no exception.

“I was up there totally winging it and trying to see how I felt. I forgot how to play ‘Smoke a Little Smoke,’ which I’m embarrassed about. I got up there and I blanked. I’m sitting there going, ‘I forgot how to play my own song.’ I really did, I forgot how to play it.”

One fan held up a sign for Carolyn Dawn to perform ‘Downtime.’

“I gotta do it if you have a sign. I love this song, thank you for asking for it. Jo Dee Messina recorded it, and I haven’t played it in a while. [I] might be rusty.” With angelic, soaring vocals, the Canadian singer-songwriter certainly didn’t sound rusty.

His first time performing at Joe’s Pub, Luke was grateful as fans sang along word for word to many of his songs.

“This is really cool for me. Every day I still wake up and think, ‘I can’t believe I get to make music and that’s my job,’” Luke said. ‘I appreciate everybody being so awesome tonight.”

The audience early cheered Luke on through his performance of a hit he wrote with Carrie Underwood, ‘Undo It,’ along with a song he wrote for Blake Shelton and Trace Adkins, ‘Hillbilly Bone.’ Written with Craig Wiseman, Luke explained he came up with the latter song after a long day of songwriting that didn’t go anywhere.

“We completely shifted gears,” he recalled. “I was just joking around. I was rapping these verses and it turned into a country and western hit.”

Upon Eric’s next turn, he continued to reveal many of the tales behind his music. He explained that his hit, ‘Hell On the Heart,’ was inspired by a girl he used to date in his small town in North Carolina.

“There were four or five girls in my town that were worthy to date and I dated all five of them. There was this one particular girl who I would refer to as a bitch,” he said to an eruption of laughter. “Here’s what’s funny — I had four or five buddies, too, so the same four or five buddies ended up dating the same four or five girls.

“There’s this one particular girl who broke all of our hearts,” he continued. “She just went down the line. If you had been with her, if you were number one, you’d always warn number two. She was really hot – she was the hottest of the five. I don’t know where she is now. Prison? We could all hope. I wrote this song about her.”

He later explained that the title track off his debut album, ‘Sinners Like Me,’ was inspired after he had his first beer.

“It was a pop top Schlitz. It was in my grandpa’s refrigerator. I was 15, so I thought, ‘It’s time to be a man.’ He went around the corner and I pulled it out of the refrigerator. I wasn’t going to sip it; I was going to slam that thing. I took it out, popped that top, turned it up and got sick right there on the floor. He came back around the corner and saw me and just busted out laughing.”

Lucky for Eric, his grandfather never told his mom.

The remainder of the night included a round of performances by Bob, Carolyn Dawn and Luke before Eric ended with ‘Smoke a Little Smoke.’ Complete with screams from ardent country fans, Bob promised the CMA Songwriters Series would be back in March.

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