Stagecoach Fans Shocked by Eric Church's Gospel-Heavy Set

The shorthand definition for Stagecoach is often, "the country Coachella." 2024 Stagecoach was closer to that description than ever.

The 25 year-old Coachella music festival has led the way, becoming harder and harder to stereotype as it's matured. First an oasis of alternative rock, and slowly becoming an excellent venue for electronic music and more recently hip-hop and wildly international.

So what's the country version of that?

It's Jelly Roll covering Snoop D-O double G, Lana Del Rey doing a classic by the King of Rock & Roll, it's Post Malone covering Dwight Yoakam and Brad Paisley and Vince Gill and George Strait, it's Wiz Khalifa sending everyone home on Sunday night with a guest appearance from Good Charlotte.

So, yes, it's also Eric Church with a gospel choir giving love to a 2Pac classic his hologram once performed on those very same polo fields.

Since so many aspects of modern life are now fluid and not-so-easily defined, then why not Stagecoach too?

After all, country music has 17th century roots in African-American spirituals, gospel, and European folk music. Hank Jr. did not invent it, but not everyone with a Stagecoach wristband wanted to be reminded of that.

So a lot of them left.

Any Dodger fan knows that leaving an event in Southern California early is not a rarity or a comment on the quality of the performance. This is especially true at a festival like Coachella or Stagecoach where many hours of drinking, dancing, and singing along poorly to songs beneath your rarely used cowboy hat in the desert sun could lead to some fatigue at 10:30pm. Particularly if you want to beat the rush to madness that is the festival's Uber & Lyft lots.

But also, there were some who had seen Church before, perhaps one or more of his half dozen appearances at Stagecoach and were pumped up for loud versions of "Record Year," “Talledega,” "Some of It," or “Hell of a View,” only to be met with gospel heavy versions of Leonard Cohen, Al Green, Snoop Dogg, and church hymns.


Of the 31 songs he played Friday night in his 90-minute set, 21 tunes were covers. There were just as many Pointer Sisters songs as Hank Sr's.

Depending on who you talk with, the 10x Grammy-nominated North Carolinian either committed career suicide by creating a special Stagecoach setlist of ditching many of his country hits for covers backed by a gospel choir - or he gave a shockingly fresh performance at a festival USA Today said, "has never been a hotbed of experimental artsiness."

Country music columnist Aaron Ryan tweeted, "That Eric Church set at Stagecoach was incredible. So naturally everybody hated it."

The morning after the show Church saw the writing on the wall, or more likely on Twitter, and put out a statement.

“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," the singer who turns 47 next month wrote.

This is a prime example why almost every article about the performance has a headline that includes the word 'polarizing,' some were inspired, some were ticked off.

“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,” he explained.

Upsetting an audience by experimenting with something unexpected isn't new. In 1965 Bob Dylan was booed at several of the shows on his tour when he began playing his songs using a (gasp) electric guitar with The Band, turning his back on folk traditions.

Coachella's Friday night headliner, Lana Del Rey, also perplexed some with her set of gloomy ballads. The Guardian called her weekend one performance, "a disappointingly lifeless start to the festival," and Billboard called it "perplexing and profound."

But viewers on the YouTube livestream of Coachella were more than impressed and bought her year-old album Did You Know That There's a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd. in droves at a rate of 800% more than before she arrived to the desert on the back of a motorcycle. The album is now #4 on Billboard's Top 100.

It'll be interesting to see if Church's 2021 triple album Heart & Soul will get a similar bump.

The outlaw country singer began a two-month residency earlier this month at Chiefs, his six story concert hall + bbq restaurant + bar in downtown Nashville. Tonight he will return to Chief to play the 4th of his 19-show residency that also claims to be totally unique from any gigs he plays elsewhere, and now in light of Stagecoach, people should believe him.

“These shows at Chief’s will be one of a kind, only for Chief’s and with some songs that will only ever be performed during these shows," he declared.

The residency is sold out, but tickets for other dates of his summer tour are available on his website.

"He's always done things his way"

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Last updated: 21 Jun 2024, 07:32 Etc/UTC