She drove 1,600 miles to see Eric Church from Row Z at Resch Center, and then her family was surprised with pit passes
ASHWAUBENON – There’s some irony in the fact that Emily Unger drove 1,600 miles from Nashville to Green Bay just to hear a little country music, but on Friday night, her home state had Eric Church and Music City didn’t.
The Milwaukee native who grew up in Kenosha is always up for a road trip when it comes to catching Church in concert. She and her big brother, Justin Unger, who lives in Salem west of Kenosha, have been going to his shows together since they were teens, long before Church was big enough to sell out back-to-back nights at the Resch Center near Green Bay.
“We saw him play in a cornfield at Country Thunder (in Twin Lakes) before anybody knew who he was,” she said.
Singing along with Church is how the Ungers do family reunions, so they were there — way up there — at the Resch Center, along with 15-year-old niece Lauren Unger, for The Gather Again Tour.
“We didn’t realize we were in Row Z, which was the definition of the nosebleed seats,” Emily said.
Not that they were complaining. They were just happy to be there.
They had asked an arena employee near one of the concourse entrances to help point them in the direction of their seats when someone with Church’s tour came over and asked if they wanted to move to the floor.
The natural instinct was for "Midwest nice" to kick in, Emily said. They responded with something like “Oh, no, we’re OK” or “Ope, nope, we’re good" or a variation thereof.
Even before the crew member asked if they were big fans, their T-shirts might have given them away: “Eric (Expletive) Church.” When they told him they often meet up around the country to see Church together, he told them they earned the upgrade.
He slapped a wristband on each of them and led the way down to the floor where the sprawling in-the-round stage was surrounded by two pit areas, one named the Heart Pit and one the Soul Pit, a nod to his current triple album “Heart & Soul.” They ended up in a narrow section set aside just for people getting surprise pit passes.
“The next thing we know it’s, 'Oh, my gosh, is this real?'" Emily said.
The siblings have seen Church at least 10 times. His passion and energy as a live act is unmatched, Emily said, but they've never witnessed it at close range from the pit.
“We’ve always wanted those (tickets), but they have never been within reach financially. We’ve never experienced anything like that in our entire life,” Emily said. “Music is kind of the glue that holds our family together, and those are very special events for us, so it was an extraordinarily special evening because of that.”
Church has been known to randomly surprise fans with pit passes himself. When he did two nights at the Resch Center in 2019, he drove around handing them out before the second show.
His crew couldn’t have made a better random pick than Emily.
It’s because she was wearing a Church T-shirt at a Nashville songwriters showcase seven years ago that she and Dan Evans started talking and eventually writing together. Now they’re husband-and-wife Americana duo MidWest Coast, and they often work a few Church covers into their sets.
Emily is also an ICU nurse who has been dealing heavily with COVID-19 during the pandemic. She was especially grateful to be able to stand with loved ones and strangers, in the pit or the nosebleeds, and share in the joy of music.
“Because this was The Gather Again Tour, it was like this celebration," she said. "Hey, we made it through. We survived and we’re all here together, so just really appreciate and embrace it.”
A night made all the better because it happened back home in Wisconsin.
“I’m in an Eric Church T shirt, listening to Eric Church with my brother and my niece, eating cheese curds, drinking a Spotted Cow. Is this heaven?"
Night 1 vs. Night 2; Church is now a Packers shareholder
Most Church fans caught just one night of the tour at the Resch Center, so there's no question which night was better. It’s the night they were there, of course.
But what about those diehards like Nick Mocco of De Pere who were there Friday and Saturday nights, just like he was in 2019 for the Double Down Tour?
He offered a few observations:
First off, not a single complaint about either night, but he gives a slight edge to Saturday, partly because he had seats four rows back from center stage that night.
“I think the crowd was better on Saturday night. I think they anticipated a late start,” he said. “As soon as ‘Lunatic Fringe’ hit the speakers, everybody knew he was coming out and the place just erupted.”
Church started at roughly the same time both nights, right around 9:15 p.m., but he played a full three hours on Saturday — 15 minutes longer than Friday. He did 31 songs on Friday and 34 on Saturday. Mocco was surprised, not disappointed, that he didn’t do “Jack Daniels” either night. The song is normally a staple of Church live shows, complete with the real stuff onstage.
There were “Go Pack Go!” chants from the crowds both night, but it was on Saturday night that someone from the pit handed Church a Green Bay Packers stock certificate with his name on it. Church showed it off for the video screens.
Now that he’s part owner, Church told the crowd he’ll need to have more of a presence in Green Bay.
“There’s a reason why this man has won Entertainer of the Year multiple times. He is phenomenal," Mocco said. "It’s not just about the music. It’s about the stage presence and how you bring the crowd into it.”
He'll be in the crowd when Church plays May 28 at American Family Field in Milwaukee.
Contact Kendra Meinert at 920-431-8347 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @KendraMeinert.