Eric Church is winning over country fans with his unusual Stagecoach set

It would be hard to imagine a set more polarizing in reality — as in dividing true fans into almost equal and completely opposite camps — than the headlining show delivered by Eric Church to round out the first night of Stagecoach in California. The festival's 70,000 attendees will certainly not lack for anything to talk or argue about for the rest of the weekend, and debate will also continue among the many fans who watched the live stream on Prime Video and Amazon's Twitch channel.

Instead of walking out, as many expected after the earlier Jelly Roll performance, Church — after about a 20-minute delay in starting the show — adopted a true church aesthetic, sitting on a chair in front of a giant stained-glass video wall and joined by a 16-member choir, Foremost among them is the return of his long-time vocal accompanist, Joanna Cotton. This spirit has been felt in covers of obscure or overtly spiritual songs like Leonard Cohen's “Hallelujah,” Edwin Hawkins' “Oh Happy Day,” and “This Little Light of Mine,” but the church mixed these songs with distinctly secular and contemporary selections—making It led to the addition of excerpts from Tupac and Snoop Dogg classics, such as “California Love” and “Gin and Juice,” to draw a kind of line between the sacred and the profane.

For the final two numbers of the 75-minute show, including the always exciting “Springsteen,” Church's band actually appeared in what was considered, at that point, a surprise performance. It is too late for many who have already been alienated by the vocal/evangelical tenor of the majority of the group, but an exciting and dynamic last minute change for some of those who consider themselves loyal members of the church congregation.

Church has a sense of occasion that sometimes leads him to do special one-off sets, of which this was certainly one, rather than the standard touring show many might expect to see at a festival. The exclusivity of the show astounded many who consider themselves hardcore church heads, but it also created what many described as a mass exodus of those who were not getting the hits and rock 'n' roll fervor they expected. (To be fair, although videos posted on social media showed dozens of festival-goers heading toward the exit with their lawn chairs and blankets, any closing set for Stagecoach will be marked with people heading to cars and campers, so isolated clips aren't always indicative .)

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In the comments on Church's Facebook page and in many fan groups, it was easy to see the deep division immediately. “Thank you for taking us to church! This was one of my favorite performances out of your 18 performances and it was absolutely amazing!” one fan wrote. “This entire performance should be an album. Incredible and one of his best ever! Another raved: “I realize this isn't everyone's cup of tea but for us die-hard fans, this is a dream.” “Best church performance I've ever seen from him! I love his swing side but this is what I needed tonight.

But then the dissidents said: “What was that?” Read a short sample comment. And: “What a trainwreck performance. What were you thinking?” Others explained at length: “Terrible. Reading the room and redirecting. Let's say you should take a break and you'll be right back after regrouping or something, but continuing like that is making my ears bleed from whatever it was… just really terrible.” People spent time and money to watch the biggest choke show I think I've ever seen.

Some were calm and took it in stride, like the fan group member who wrote: “Definitely a weird playlist.” Another, who didn't seem upset about the show personally but was aware of the backlash, wrote: “One very shocking and interesting show he gave tonight. I've never seen an audience leave a venue so quickly. He finished his show 30 minutes early and got booed at the end When he finally decides to stand up for the first time I hope he's okay and doesn't tear up too much on this show.

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Another fan page member: “I was there last night. I've seen EFC all over this beautiful country and I'm a huge fan. Couldn't have been more disappointed than last night… He walked out over 20 minutes late. You don't Do it at StageCoach, technicians rushed all over the theater clearly trying to fix things that weren't working and then there was organ music that only went on for 5 minutes for no apparent reason, time and place and pre-examination Two perfect places for this set and it could have been an amazing experience. Standing in a dirt field in 25 mph winds with 70,000 people wasn't the right time and place and it wasn't the right crowd. One of the things I love about the guy is the middle finger Who would love to introduce him to “the man” but last night I felt like that middle finger was pointed directly at me My boyfriend and I took his 22 year old son and 20 year old daughter and spent the drive to Indio playing church songs and telling them how great the show was. “But it wasn’t the first time I left a church show early….”

Although reactions to the show usually had nothing to do with the music, some felt an agenda they objected to in the church incorporating different genres of music through his cover choices. One tweeter wrote, “Jelly Roll just kicked headliner ass… because Eric Church decided we showed up to hear some fucking virtue signaling… unrealistic, insulting… Hey, get over your white guilt and play some fucking country music.”

Some fans who relish the idea of ​​the Church being outlawed actually expressed some joy in how polarizing it was: “Love melting haters. It was unbelievable.” Another supporter: “The thought that keeps running through my mind this morning is… when there's 70,000 people in the audience, how can you make sure that the people who are really there to see you are having the best experience possible?” You're doing exactly what Eric did tonight past! One review claimed it was “like the Red Sea parting” as people were running towards the exit. If I were a festival goer and I was in the back, I would 100% say so…that's right buddy, if you're not here for this, get out of the way so I can go to church!!! “

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Church issued a statement Saturday morning in a press release explaining his intentions with the unusual collection. “This was the hardest group I've ever tried to do. I've always found that when you take it back to where it started, back to chasing who loves Bob Seger, who loves Springsteen, who loves Willie Nelson, you chase it back to the origin. The origin of it all remains Its purest form and we don't do that as much anymore. It was good at the moment to come back and be in the choir and do it.

“For me, it's always been about the records and the shows,” he continued, “I've always been the person who says, 'Let's do something really weird and weird and take a chance.' Sometimes it doesn't work out, but it's okay if you're living on that edge,” he continued. Because that edge, that evolving edge, is where all the new people are going to gravitate to anyway so, if you can always challenge yourself in that way, you'll always be sharper than any other edge.

However, it's hard to get social media fans, or even a live audience, riled up about the unexpected content of a Stagecoach show, as music fans might normally be raving about a surprise Coachella set, so the reality of the show's “chilla boycott cousin Lots of controversy as he seems to have achieved some kind of breakthrough.

The festival continues with chorus-less headline sets from Miranda Lambert Saturday and Morgan Wallen Sunday.

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