The most coveted award in country music, it reaches beyond the writing room or the stage. It’s the culmination of your entire year. All of the blood, sweat and tears that go into writing a record, recording it in the studio, touring across the country, engaging with the fans, and representing everything that country music is as a whole.
And if the voters got it right, that crown will be sitting atop the head of Mr. Eric Church by the end of the night.
On his merits alone, without comparing him to the other deserving nominees, here’s why:
Even the build up to Desperate Man was unlike anything we’ve seen this past year. A fuzzy video recording streamed exclusively to his fan club, then a surprise single, the title track co-written by Ray Wylie Hubbard, was released the next day. And when the album finally arrived, it was everything we’ve been waiting for and more. From a scathing political commentary, to checking under the bed for “Monsters,” the entire album is apologetically Eric Church the artist and Eric Church the man. Oh, and he co-wrote every single track on the Album of the Year nominated record.
“It was the toughest record that I’ve made out of all of them. It’s funny, it’s just like anything you do creatively, when you think this is what it’s going to be, this where we are headed, I promise you, were headed here. This is where you are going. Creativity will take over and you will end up on another path and that’s what happened here. And to credit, I think, the way we make records, or try to make records, is we will pay attention to that. We will change course, and we are not afraid to change course. So, I think for me, my favorite thing about this album, is I know where we started and where we ended up.”
Every single time Eric steps on stage, he gives it everything he has, leaving fans with a night they’ll never forget. Over 3 hours every single show, two sets by himself with no opening act. Then this year, he doubled down with back-to-back shows in each city, over 3 hours of music each night, once again with no opening act. Eric tailored a completely different set list every single night featuring a unique medley of covers paying homage to the city that he was in. If you were in Detroit you probably heard Eric give his best go at an Eminem cover. If you were in Canada, you probably heard some Neil Young. We’re talking hundreds and hundreds of different songs throughout the tour, more than any other artist in music. Not to mention the attendance records, and the revenue he was generating, (grossing nearly $67 Million and with an overall attendance of nearly 740,000) The Double Down Tour was unlike anything we’ve ever seen, and unlike anything we’ll ever see again.
“Well, I think for me every night I try to empty the tank. There’s always that energy floating around. It’s a palpable thing, and it’s up to me to start that exchange and get the crowd to give it back to me and then watch it build on itself and just to have that experience. We have one night here in whatever city we’re in, you know, we’ve got this night. I’m not gonna see you for a while you’re not gonna see me for a while, you know? And I love being able to capitalize on that moment and trying to live in that moment and get as much energy exchange between myself and the crowd as we can. I love that. That’s my favorite part of what we do. I love being around people, I’m very passionate about my music, and I love people who are passionate about the music too and I love playing a show for that type of crowd.”
The Nissan Stadium Show
This past May, Eric broke Taylor Swift’s record by playing in front of a sold-out crowd of 56,521 people at Nashville’s Nissan Stadium, the biggest country music venue in a city that is built on country music. No opening act, just 56,000 strong hanging on to every single word.
“I came here 15 years ago and I had dreams, but I’m not sure I could dream this big. Tonight is a special night for me and you know this if you’ve been to any of our shows on the Double Down Tour… I’m gonna give you everything I’ve got all night long, and tonight is going to be a revival. I promise you.”
The 27-Minute Performance at CMA Fest
At CMA Fest this past summer, Eric once again proved why he’s a once-in-a-lifetime entertainer. You get about 30 minutes on stage to play a few of your biggest hits, but not Eric, no he walked on stage completely alone, acoustic guitar in hand, and gave a 27-minute, 17-song marathon performance of his signature “Mistress Named Music Medley.” Imagine performing a 27-minute song? Epic is the word you’re looking for right there.
“I was having a bit of a brain thing where we just played Nissan and set the record, and in my opinion, the best show of our career, and then I’m back three weeks later, and I’ve got to figure out how to do something that’s gonna be memorable again. That was the hardest thing earlier in the day. I started working on it – I could do this. I could do that. I thought about doing all covers. I thought about just changing it up completely. I went through all these things in my head, and finally decided that probably the best avenue, the best path was me just to go out and play ‘Mistress (Named Music)’ like I was gonna play a bunch of the stuff – that had taken on its own form during the tour, people knew about it, it’d become popular, they probably thought I was gonna do ‘Piano Man.’ And then to go in and cover myself for those 17 songs, I thought, as it grew and as I kept going, it’d be a really neat thing. The fun thing for me was during the day was figuring out, ‘How can I play for 30 minutes and not stop’ – and that was my set time – ‘…can I pull all that off and then get back to Mistress at the end?’ So, I had a lot of fun just trying to figure that out. That was a challenge, and I love stuff like that.”
For Eric, it’s real easy… the fans come first. Whether he’s walking around the tailgate before the show, hanging out in the lobby upgrading tickets, donating $10,000 to the jog-a-thon of some little girl in the crowd, reading gender reveals, helping with proposals, bringing baseball to Nashville, his charity initiative, or just giving fans every ounce of everything he’s got on stage, the fans are the lifeblood of the music empire that is Eric Church. Just ask any member of the Church Choir, some of the most dedicated country music fans on the planet.
Perhaps there’s no better way to describe the impact someone has made in their line of work, than to listen to the opinions of their colleagues. Other country artists, doing the same thing that Eric Church does day in and day out. This tribute video was shared with Eric at his most recent #1 party for “Some Of It” and we’re talking artists like Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, and Ray Wylie Hubbard, among many, many others, heaping praise onto Eric unlike I’ve anything I’ve ever heard for a current artist. This is how people talk about artists at their Hall of Fame induction, not in the prime of their career.