Photography by Laura Ord
Many of the 50,000 still in attendance at Nissan Stadium for CMA Fest 2023 on Saturday night (June 10) waited until well past the original 11.20pm start time in anticipation of the final act of the night: Eric Church.
What they received for such patience was a 20-minute New Orleans-influenced soul-rock production that enticed many and infuriated others, proving that The Chief will always go against the system and do whatever the hell he feels like.
"This place has always been really special to me," Church speaks to the crowd for the first time, mid-way through his set, "I had the greatest night of my life here one time a while back, and it's always fun to get to come back and do this".
While the crowd may not have appreciated the shortness of his set, they were certainly, at face value at least, enjoying the way it sounded.
Photography by Laura Ord
Evoking the grand-sounding boogie-groove of his recent triple album Heart & Soul, Church reimagined some of his biggest singalongs into rich, multifaceted Louisiana swamp blues with a dose of gospel for good measure.
'Country Music Jesus', for the first time, actually sounded like a cult-led mantra rather than an angry plea for counterculture, while 'Drink In Hand' scatted and bopped to combative guitars as the crowd attempted to keep up and sing along.
Addressing the different nature of his performance, Church admitted, "We always try and do something different every year, and as you can tell this year is that way too". Church has always gone against the grain, and tonight felt like one of his most successful experiments. It breathed further life into old hits that still haven't lost their touch, while displaying just how creative and expressive Church and his band can be live.
"We're going to keep that thing going; as long as you guys want to do this, I haven't got to be anywhere for a while... we're going to sleep in anyways". Church suggested before delving into 'Cold One'. This is perhaps where Church lost the crowd.
Departing shortly after - nearly 10 minutes before they were due to - incensed the crowd, who let out a chorus of boos as the stadium lights came up and the suggested promise of longer than a 7-song set died as quickly as it was offered.
While the set may have divided many, it certainly gave those in attendance a taste of what we may expect from Church's forthcoming Outsiders Revival Tour - an ever-progressive outlaw at the height of his creative game.
Eric Church - Setlist
From his headline set at Nissan Stadium at CMA Fest 2023 on Saturday, June 10, 2023.
For more coverage on CMA Fest 2023, see below: