Throwback To Eric Church’s Epic 30-Minute Medley From CMA Fest 2019 (2024)

It’s CMA Fest week in Nashville, and frankly, I won’t be attending. Too many people, too hot and muggy, not a very good mainstage lineup, I have two kids under 3 and don’t live near Tennessee… there’s a number of reasons why I don’t really care to attend CMA Fest. I’ve been in this business for a decade now, I’ve been to CMA Fest a number of times, I’ve been to countless shows year in and year out, and braving those crazy crowds is just not my thing anymore when I can go see exactly who I want on their own tour.

Gee Wes, you’re really making me want to read the rest of this blog…

Stick with me…

But one of the last times I did attend CMA Fest, it was pretty epic. And I feel like the term “epic” gets thrown around a lot, you know… kinda like the word “love,” but what Eric Church did in 2019 was truly epic. At the last minute, Eric flipped the script, sent his entire band home, picked up an acoustic guitar, and for 30 straight minutes performed a 17-song medley featuring some of the best songs that country music has seen in the past 10 years.

Eric was fresh off setting the Nissan Stadium attendance record during his Double Down Tour,and he knew he had to change it up, but with just a half hour to play, how can you really give the fans something memorable? Go in completely alone, and don’t stop until it’s over… here’s what Eric had to say about it:

“I was having a bit of a brain thing where we just played Nissan and set the record, and in my opinion, the best show of our career, and then I’m back three weeks later, and I’ve got to figure out how to do something that’s gonna be memorable again. That was the hardest thing earlier in the day. I started working on it – I could do this. I could do that. I thought about doing all covers. I thought about just changing it up completely.

I went through all these things in my head, and finally decided that probably the best avenue, the best path was me just to go out and play ‘Mistress (Named Music)’ like I was gonna play a bunch of the stuff – that had taken on its own form during the tour, people knew about it, it’d become popular, they probably thought I was gonna do ‘Piano Man.’ And then to go in and cover myself for those 17 songs, I thought, as it grew and as I kept going, it’d be a really neat thing.

The fun thing for me was during the day was figuring out, ‘How can I play for 30 minutes and not stop’ – and that was my set time – ‘…can I pull all that off and then get back to Mistress at the end?’ So, I had a lot of fun just trying to figure that out. That was a challenge, and I love stuff like that.”

So once he settled on going solo, he sent the entire band home… right before they were set to take the stage. Why? So there was no way to back out, no Plan B, no escape plan… he was going to jump without a parachute:

“I was by myself. I didn’t let anybody know. At this point in time, nobody knew. And I was working on it, working on it, and I wasn’t sure it could happen. I’d think, ‘Eh,’ and I’d go back up and think about it for a minute, and go, ‘Eh.’ My fallback is I’m just gonna play five songs, and I’d go back and work on it again. Finally I thought, ‘I can do this. This is gonna be, it’s gonna be something. It’s gonna be ballsy.’

I went and told the band, ‘The best thing that can happen is you guys leave, because if you’re still here, there’s a chance I’ll go back and do the other. I need you to go home and then I’m on my own.’ And then I told ‘em what I was doing, and they thought it was cool. I think that’ll be neat. So, they all grabbed their bags and got in their cars and they left. So, at that point in time, we’re about an hour before the show and the band’s gone. The bus is empty.”

And the result was incredible.

A magical and memorable moment that people still talk about years and years later. It was the kind of thing you don’t expect from CMA Fest, and part of the reason, I don’t really find it all that exciting. And no offense to anyone performing this week, but you’re just not going to see this kind of thing again. Just a man and his guitar for 30 minutes of nonstop hits, he did everything from “Drink In My Hand” and “Talladega” to “Sinners Like Me” and “Springsteen.”

But as awesome and unexpected as it was for country music fans, the producers of the show were NOT happy about it. Why? Because the CMA Fest performances at Nissan Stadium are always recorded live and then aired later in the year. They cut it up, air some of the songs, run commercials in between, have the hosts do their thing… but when you play for 30 minutes straight, there’s no breaks for commercials. And commercials are how you make money. Shocker… producers don’t like when they can’t use your content to make money…

Eric says they told him not to come back after that:

“The last time I played the damn thing, I went out acoustic and played an entire medley that they never could air because I didn’t have any breaks in it. And basically, they told me not to come back again, ever. I was like, I tried to give you something special, and people still talk about that thing. But I was kind of invited not to come back.”

Of course, Eric would come back in 2023 and that performance wasn’t without controversy either. He chose to play some deep cuts and some new arrangements that left fans a little puzzled, and then the show ended abruptly when the lights randomly turned back on. Eric responded, and now, it really doesn’t sound like he’ll be back anytime soon:

“I get it, looking back on it. I had a slot. This isn’t my show—I’m playing with seven other artists. And I didn’t play ‘Springsteen,’ I didn’t play a bunch of stuff that they probably thought I would play. But it was good!

I don’t care what the blowback was. I watched it, and that set was f***ing great. Maybe we’re just not made for stuff like that.”

Eric has always taken chances… whether it was opening for Rascal Flatts at the beginning of his career, or performing nothing but covers with a Gospel choir at Stagecoach a couple months back. And when you take chances, do you sometimes miss? Sure, especially when you get a festival audience who is expecting nothing more than the Top 40 singles. But taking chances also can catapult you unto the upper echelons of performers, setting apart the good performers from the really great ones. And Eric… arguably the best I’ve seen in the past decade.

Put it this way, I’m probably going to blog about one CMA Fest performance this week… and it’s right now… Eric Church doing the unthinkable five years ago. Doing something… epic.

Throwback To Eric Church’s Epic 30-Minute Medley From CMA Fest 2019 (2024)
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