FLORENCE — The little boy came out of nowhere and stood beside Eric Church on the Country Thunder stage Friday night.
If Church was looking for his Mini Me, he found him in the pint-sized kid with the dark aviation glasses and ball cap pulled low on his forehead.
Church gave the stage to the little guy, who sung into a dead mic along with Church on his drinking ode “Smoke A Little Smoke.” Arguably not an appropriate song for a kiddo — the song extols the joys of “drink a little drink, smoke a little smoke — but that little guy knew every line. And he had down every one of Church’s nuances — and there are many from kicking his leg up in a jerky spastic motion and punching his hands in the air to mouthing something that looks like “owm bowm bowm bow-dum...bowm bowm bowm bow-dum,” his go-to chorus on several songs.
Until that point, Church’s show was one rollicking, rolling, grinding, foot-stomping, can’t-stay-in-your-seat affair, the kind that defines a festival like Country Thunder. The nasally baritone covered everything from his honky tonk “Pledge Allegiance to the Hag” and “Homeboy” to a cooler’s worth of drinking songs including “Put A Drink In My Hand” and “I’m Getting’ Stoned.” It was not an act; throughout his 90-minute show Church swigged from a red Solo cup filled with Jack Daniels and Coke and at one point took a full can of beer from a fan in the audience and poured it down his throat, spilling it on his chest.
He blasted away on “Guys Like Me” who land girls like you and “These Boots” that have seen more of life than their soles can tell.
But the night was not all about rocking and drinking. Church, who just two years ago was an opening act at Country Thunder, slowed things down. He had a few love songs to sing including “She Loves Me Like Jesus” and “Country Music Jesus.”
The little boy’s turn came during Church’s three-song encore. He signed the guitar he was using and handed it to the boy as they strutted down the catwalk. The guitar was taller than the boy so Church held it for him as the boy made his way down the catwalk shaking hands of his newfound fans. The smile on Church’s face let you know that this was not a stunt; he was just as surprised as the audience at the kid’s stage confidence and the uncanny way he matched Church word for word and action for action.
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