For people around the world Northern Ireland is known for a number of reasons but tonight it was to highlight our best features in one of the capital’s, and indeed country’s, treasures that is the Ulster Hall. It has been known as the home of global musicians for one night only. The now legendary ‘Stairway to Heaven’ was first performed here by Led Zeppelin on that fateful night on March 5th 1971. AC/DC performed in the venue in 1979 along with a host following in their footsteps. The Ulster Hall is steeped in tradition from head to toe and now is part of worldwide musician folklore. On Tuesday 25th February, it played home to whiskey-fuelled country rock, courtesy of Eric Church and crew.
Nashville trio The Cadillac Three were the only support of the night, with their long hair and Tennessee twang poised to win over the growing Belfast audience. The bluesy grit of rusty guitar riffs fused gracefully with Kelby Ray’s Dobro creating an atmosphere filled with anticipation, regardless of whether they could understand what we were shouting. Musically similar to a chilled-out Kings of Leon but with more on stage charm, ‘Tennessee Mojo’ and ‘White Lightning’ were particular highlights before an impressive drum collaboration including Neil Mason and vocalist Jaren Johnson resulted in bashing the toms on a musical parallel to sign off and tip their hat to Northern Ireland.
As more people entered the hall and balcony seats filling nicely, the house lights dimmed and on the stroke of nine o’clock, or thereabouts, everyone was ready. Sirens bellowed from the giant speakers and red spotlights circled the venue as Eric Church announced his arrival to Belfast. With the crowd screaming and arms aloft, the North Carolina born heartthrob fired straight into ‘Creepin’, a single taken from album ‘Chief’. Dressed in denim jeans, a hoodie and the trademark sunglasses, Church’s ability to send the audience into a frenzy of screams with just the raise of his hand or a thrust of his guitar was incredible. Granted the Ulster Hall wasn’t sold out, both audience and band revelled in the excitement – it’s music for the masses. Delightful acoustic melodies echoed around the hall with the crowd joining in before sudden bursts of southern rock like ‘Drink in my Hand’ and ‘Jack Daniels’ nailed the solid performance that the Northern Irish crowd were waiting and wishing for. Mark Dunn