“The Most Difficult Set I Ever Attempted” – Eric Church Explains Acoustic Gospel Set That Had Stagecoach Fans Leaving Early

Eric Church country music
Amy Sussman/Getty Images for Stagecoach

You win some, you lose some.

Eric Church has never been one to play it safe. Whether it’s choosing singles like “Smoke A Little Smoke,” or “The Outsiders,” whether it’s playing too long or too loud, and more recently, taking some questionable creative routes at the live show, Eric Church is always going to do everything he can to push the limits of what fans have come to expect.

We saw it with the Heart & Soul project. Holing up in a cabin for 30 days in an effort to write and record an entire triple album… write in the morning, record at night, one song a day for 30 days. It was quite the endeavor, one I can appreciate and would argue he pulled off. But ask plenty of Eric Church fans and they’ll tell you Heart & Soul isn’t exactly their favorite part of the Eric Church catalog.

And if you remember back to CMA Fest in 2019, Church decided to go a different direction than the other performers at Nissan Stadium when he took the main stage. Instead of playing a full-band set of his biggest hits like most artists do for the festival, Church walked out on stage with just his guitar and treated fans to an incredible 30-minute, 17-song acoustic medley unlike anyone else had done. While fans might’ve appreciated that one, CMA Fest producers didn’t. No breaks didn’t allow for commercials in the broadcast and they couldn’t air it. He played CMA Fest again last year, another performance that left fans angry because he “didn’t play the hits.”

But last night’s Stagecoach crowd got another creative Hail Mary from Eric Church, and they were exactly thrilled with the direction Chief was aiming to take the show. Donning nothing but an acoustic guitar, Eric performed a number of stripped back covers, and a couple of his own songs, but if you’ve ever seen his “Mistress Named Music” medley where he intersperses a variety of songs from a variety of genres into his own song. Well, this was that on steroids… for the entire set. Backed by a 16-person choir that included the great Joanna Cotten, the 75-minute Gospel-influenced set featured covers of “Hallelujah,” “Take Me To The River,” “Stand By Me,” “Gin and Juice,” and more.

He did bring in the band at the end of the show for part of “Country Music Jesus” and “Springsteen.”

But let’s just say that fans didn’t exactly appreciate the artistic vision Chief was going for on this one, and a number of people were seen exiting early from the headlining set.

@nathan_young110 Didnt play any of his songs.. the whole crowd got up and left! Nickelback saved the night #stagecoach #ericchurch #fypage #awful ♬ original sound – Nathan Young110

It also sounds like a number of disappointed patrons headed over to the Nickelback set on the smaller Palomino stage, which created a logistical nightmare, one that some called “unsafe.”

@livingwithalex1 That was the most insane thing ive ever experienced in coschella or stagecoach #nickelback #stagecoach #stagecoach2024 #ericchurch #disaster ♬ original sound – Livingwithalex

Following the show, Eric explained his inspiration behind the set, calling it the most difficult set he’s ever tried to do:

“This was the most difficult set I have ever attempted. I’ve always found that taking it back to where it started, back to chasing who Bob Seger loves, who Springsteen loves, who Willie Nelson loves, you chase it back to the origin. The origin of all that is still the purest form of it. And we don’t do that as much anymore. It felt good at this moment to go back, take a choir and do that.

For me, it’s always been something with records, with performances, I’ve always been the one that’s like, ‘let’s do something really, really strange and weird and take a chance.’

Sometimes it doesn’t work, but it’s okay if you’re living on that edge, because that edge, that cutting edge, is where all the new guys are going to gravitate to anyway. So if you can always challenge yourself that way, it always cuts sharper than any other edge.”

Seems like this might be an instance of “sometimes it doesn’t work.” And look, I’m a big Eric Church fan, I’ve probably seen him a dozen times in various types of settings… tour, intimate dive bar, festival, I can appreciate to his vision to always push the limits and give fans something different. I would’ve loved this set.

But… Stagecoach is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, A LOT of people come from very far away and, some even overseas, to attend the annual festival, and you’re not getting 100,000 Eric Church fans in that crowd. Hell, it seems like half of the people in the crowd at Stagecoach and Coachella these days are TikTok-ers and influencers, not hardcore music fans. So, I can understand why people are upset. If it were me performing, I’d want to make sure a crowd of this size, many who have traveled a long way and have been drinking all day, had a good time, and maybe I’d keep this one in my back pocket for another day.

But hey, like I said earlier… playing it safe has never been part of the recipe for Eric Church, and I sure as hell don’t expect him to start now.

Maybe fans will have better luck with Miranda Lambert tonight, or Morgan Wallen on Sunday…

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock