Eric Church is on the cover of the latest issue of Billboard magazine for the issue's first-ever COVID-19 vaccination cover, which features a photo of the country star receiving his final vaccine. The cover shot was Church's idea, as he sees fans getting their COVID-19 vaccinations as the only way to get back on the road the way he wants to — with fans standing shoulder to shoulder.
When the pandemic first hit, Church met with epidemiologists, venue managers and industry vets, and at first those experts speculated that touring would not resume until spring 2023. With the quick development of vaccines, that timeline has now sped up. "I view it as a godsent miracle," he said. "It became very clear to me that the only way to really get back to normal is through vaccinations. You've got to get needles in arms."
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Vaccines, like the pandemic itself, have become a politicized issue in the United States, and while Church isn't trying to get fans to change their beliefs, he does want to encourage those who are on the fence to get their shot. "If you believe you shouldn't, I don't have a problem with it. I'm a liberty guy, too. I get it," he explained. "But I view this a little differently than most other things. We've never encountered this."
To get his own vaccine, the North Carolina native registered on multiple wait lists in multiple counties surrounding Nashville after he was deemed eligible and used his first name, Kenneth, to avoid being prioritized because of his celebrity status. "I just want to play shows," he said. "Politics' job is to divide — that's how you win elections. Those things that unite us are music and sports. The times when, whether you're a Democrat or Republican or whatever, you throw your arm around the person next to you."
Church is an artist whose career has been built on live shows, and he has an arena tour planned for the fall in support of his upcoming triple album, Heart & Soul. "That has been the hardest thing about COVID: It takes what you do," he said. "I used the music and the stage to get me through some of those darker things that were more personal." Those difficult times included a near-fatal blood clot in his chest in 2017 and the death of his younger brother in 2018. "Take that away, and you've got to deal with some of the stuff you maybe haven't dealt with."
He's now looking forward to seeing fans fill arenas once again and specifically to playing his song "Holdin' My Own," during which, as has become tradition, members of the audience put their arms around each other. "We become one," he said. "We need that. I need that."