Re-Live Eric Church’s Memorable CMA Fest Performances

This marks the country star’s first CMA Fest appearance since 2019.

By

Lauren Jo Black

| Posted on

July 19, 2023

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Eric Church; Photo by Andrew Wendowski

Eric Church returned to the CMA Fest stage for the first time since his epic 30-minute “Mistress Named Music” medley in 2019 for a performance fans won’t soon forget.

The country superstar served up unique renditions of “Smoke A Little Smoke” and “Bad Mother Trucker” during the CMA Fest special on ABC. 

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Church was joined by a horn section and his performances were nothing short of memorable as they showcased a side of the country star fans haven’t seen before. The reworked versions of the tunes resonated with many fans, but some were quite disappointed in the revamped songs.   

Eric Church; Photo by Andrew Wendowski
Eric Church; Photo by Andrew Wendowski

Following his performance at the iconic Nashville festival, Church received backlash and outraged fans took to social media to express that his CMA Fest set didn’t include several of his signature hits (including “Springsteen”), and many of the songs featured a whole new arrangement.

The unexpected changes Church made to his set sparked a conversation amongst the fans and a wave of disappointment on social media.

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“Eric Church ended a very weird set and disappointed 50,000 fans. I don’t know if he was pissed off at the CMA or what. Lights come on only 4 songs in and it’s done. Major disappointment at the CMAs,” one fan wrote on Twitter, while another added, “A lot of disappointed and confused people tonight with @ericchurch but going back and watching the video it definitely looks like he just finished the set and said goodnight… about 8 minutes early #cmafest.”

Addressing The Criticism

Now, in a new interview with Rolling Stone, the country superstar is addressing the situation, admitting that he was “shocked” at the criticism he received.

“I was shocked because I played the show that I went out there to play,” Church said. “We had a time slot and I went out there to play that slot and try to show a little bit, a peek, as to what I was working on for this tour. I’m not going to [reveal] everything, but I’m going to give a little peek of what this could be.”

Eric Church; Photo Courtesy of CMA
Eric Church; Photo Courtesy of CMA

He went on to explain his intentions and clarify certain production elements that were out of his control, including when the stadium lights suddenly turned on at the end of his set when fans thought he was going to return for an encore. However, Church did not return to the CMA Fest stage as he completed his allotted 30 minute time slot. 

“There were a couple of production things that I was not responsible for — when the lights went up, that wasn’t me. But for what I went to do, it was fast and hard. And the shows are that way,” Church continued. 

A Sneak Peek Into New Material

While Eric Church didn’t go too much into detail, he did acknowledge that his CMA Fest set was to give fans a sneak peek of his new material and offer a sample of what fans can expect from The Outsiders Tour, including the new musical arrangement for many of his songs.

“All the songs are different. All the songs were changed. It was punchy. I didn’t play ‘Springsteen,’ because I have a new version of ‘Springsteen.’ You’ve got to come to a show and see it,” Church added.

Eric Church; Photo by Andrew Wendowski
Eric Church; Photo by Andrew Wendowski

The Outsiders Tour

Church is currently in the midst of his headlining trek, dubbed The Outsiders Tour, which kicked off on June 22 at American Family Insurance Amphitheater in Milwaukee, WI. 

Eric Church’s The Outsiders Revival Tour will visit 26 cities across the U.S. and Canada.

Produced by Live Nation, the highly anticipated tour features a number of special guests on various dates, including Whiskey Myers, Cody Jinks, Jelly Roll, Ashley McBryde, Koe Wetzel, Lainey Wilson, Midland, Parker McCollum, Travis Tritt, Elle King and Paul Cauthen, plus Jackson Dean, Morgan Wade, Muscadine Bloodline, Shane Smith & The Saints, Hailey Whitters, Ray Wylie Hubbard and The Red Clay Straws.

The three-hour CMA Fest special was hosted by Dierks Bentley, Elle King, and Lainey Wilson and aired on ABC on Wednesday, July 19. 

Dubbed “the music event of summer,” the special featured 30+ performances and surprise collaborations from some of Country music’s hottest stars, including Alabama, Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Leon Bridges, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Luke Combs, Dan + Shay, Jordan Davis, Vince Gill, HARDY, Tyler Hubbard, Jelly Roll, Cody Johnson, Elle King, Miranda Lambert, Avril Lavigne, Little Big Town, Ashley McBryde, Reba McEntire, Tim McGraw, Jo Dee Messina, Old Dominion, Jon Pardi, Carly Pearce, Darius Rucker, Tanya Tucker, Keith Urban, and Lainey Wilson.  

CMA Fest marked its 50th Anniversary with a record-breaking celebration in Nashville, June 8 through June 11. 

Lainey Wilson, Dierks Bentley and Elle King.; Photo by ABC/Robby Klein
Lainey Wilson, Dierks Bentley and Elle King.; Photo by ABC/Robby Klein

The four-day event hosted an estimated daily attendance of over 90,000, a 12% increase from 2022, according to the Country Music Association. Additionally, the nightly concerts at Nissan Stadium saw 10% growth from 2022.

The festival also hosted fans from all 50 states as well as a record-breaking 51 countries.

Dierks Bentley, Elle King, Lainey Wilson; Photo Courtesy CMA/ ABC
Dierks Bentley, Elle King, Lainey Wilson; Photo Courtesy CMA/ ABC

“What a weekend! As we’ve spent the past year reflecting on this milestone celebration, one theme has persisted—the incredible connection between Country Music fans and the artists,” Sarah Trahern, CMA Chief Executive Officer, shared in a statement. “It’s magical because it still matters after all these years. From first-timers to legends, so many artists started as fans—some as far back as Fan Fair. Almost every artist who performs during the festival has had their own experience as a fan, so for many of them, taking the stage at CMA Fest is a full-circle moment. We only get the chance to celebrate our 50th anniversary once, and to do so in such an impactful way has meant the world to us. Thank you, Country Music!”   

More than 300 acts took part in CMA Fest this year, including performances at the Chevy Riverfront Stage, Dr Pepper Amp Stage, Chevy Vibes Stage, Maui Jim Reverb Stage and the Hard Rock Stage as well at Fan Fair X inside Music City Center. 

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Lauren Jo Black

Written by

Lauren Jo Black

Lauren Jo Black, a University of Central Florida graduate, has immersed herself in the world of country music for over 15 years. In 2008, she co-founded CountryMusicIsLove, eventually selling it to a major record label in 2015. Following the rebranding of the website to Sounds Like Nashville, Black served as Editor-in-Chief for two and a half years. Currently, she assumes the role of Editor-in-Chief at Country Now and oversees Country Now’s content and digital footprint. Her extensive experience also encompasses her previous role as a Country Music Expert Writer for Answers.com and her work being featured on Forbes.com. She’s been spotlighted among Country Aircheck’s Women of Influence and received the 2012 Rising Star Award from the University of Central Florida. Black also spent time in front of the camera as host of Country Now Live, which brought live music directly to fans in 2021 when the majority of concerts were halted due to the pandemic. During this time, she hosted 24 weeks of live concerts via Country Now Live on Twitch with special guests such as Lady A, Dierks Bentley, Jordan Davis, Brett Young, and Jon Pardi. Over the course of her career, she has had the privilege of conducting interviews with some of the industry’s most prominent stars, including Reba McEntire, Blake Shelton, Luke Combs, Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Lainey Wilson, and many others. Lauren Jo Black is a longtime member of the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.