About a year ago, early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, Eric Church said that he wouldn't play another concert until it was safe to do so: until there was a vaccine for the virus. Now, he's doing his part to get there quickly, advocating for Americans to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in a new Billboard story, sharing how he and his team are planning to resume touring safely — and even letting the magazine photograph him getting his shot for the cover.

The country superstar tells Billboard that he registered on waiting lists in both his Tennessee county and surrounding ones, so that he could get the vaccine as soon as he became eligible. He used his given first name, Kenneth, to avoid getting special treatment.

"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," says Church, who, at the start of the pandemic, met with various health and music industry specialists to devise a plan to begin playing live shows again.

Eric Church COVID-19 vaccine

"If you believe you shouldn't [get vaccinated], I don’t have a problem with it. I’m a liberty guy, too. I get it," Church adds. "But I view this a little differently than most other things. We’ve never encountered this."

These days, looking back at old concert photos throws Church for a bit of a loop: "It looks so strange to see me in the middle of this pit, hugging everybody and taking shots of Jack Daniel’s. It’s like, 'What universe ...?' It just seems so far away," he admits.

"That has been the hardest thing about COVID: It takes what you do," he adds. "I used the music and the stage to get me through some of those darker things that were more personal. Take that away, and you’ve got to deal with some of the stuff you maybe haven’t dealt with."

To Billboard, Church's team shares that they're working on plans for a post-pandemic tour. They've been working on scheduling show dates — though plans have needed to shift pretty constantly — and hope to pay any additional costs associated with new protocols on their end, rather than push it to fans via ticket prices. Church's manager, John Peets, explains that their plans also include tickets going on sale closer to show dates than before, given the potential for COVID-19 testing or vaccination proof for entry to concerts.

On April 18, during the 2021 ACM Awards, a PSA about the ACM Lifting Lives COVID-19 vaccine education initiative, in partnership with the Ad Council, featuring Church, Ashley McBryde and Darius Rucker will premiere. It's set to run through at least the summer.

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