It says a great deal about country artist Eric Church that he's the first arena headliner to be smart enough to hire Robert Earl Keen to open his current tour.
First, it means he recognized the feloniously overlooked songwriting quality and persona Keen brings to the table. Secondly, it indicates Church's profound individualism and a "don't give a rat's ass" attitude towards the Nashville hierarchy.
Of course, anyone who's listened to Church - as on his latest album, "Chief" - knows he's the real deal. It's a retro-ey outlaw effort, and self-penned songs such as "Country Music Jesus," "Springsteen" and "Drink in My Hand" are reminiscent of the quality of an artist like, well, Keen.
Get there early enough to see the opener, then have fun comparing REK works like "Gringo Honeymoon" and "Black Baldy Stallion" with Church's set list. It's a no-lose proposition.
- RICK KOSTER
Eric Church with Robert Earl Keen, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Mohegan Sun Arena; $39.50; 1-888-664-3426, mohegansun.com.