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Eric Church’s Polarizing Stagecoach Set Draws Raves and Boos

Eric Church took people to church at Stagecoach‘s Mane stage on the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio, Calif., on Friday night (April 26), but not all attendees of his closing set at the festival’s opening night were ready for some religion.

The country superstar curated a one-of-a-kind set that he obviously put a great deal of thought into, from the stained-glass backdrop and 16-person choir to the setlist that included covers of “Hallelujah,” “Take Me to the River,” “Stand By Me,” “I’ll Fly Away,” “When the Saints Go Marching In” and even “Gin and Juice.”

“This was the most difficult set I have ever attempted,” Church said in a press release issued after the show. “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.”

“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 said.

For much of the set, the only accompaniment was Church on guitar, the choir and his frequent collaborator, Joanna Cotton, but his full band joined at the end for a handful of Church’s tunes, including “Country Music Jesus” and “Springsteen.”

For some fans, the show was a thrilling chance to see a (presumably) once-in-a-lifetime set, while for others, it was too much of a deviation from his regular live show. To be fair, Church has mixed it up on festival gigs before: at the 2019 CMA Fest he did a 17-song acoustic medley, and at last year’s CMA Fest he played a seven-song set that featured some hits with new arrangements and some covers, including Little Feat’s “Sailin’ Shoes,” that left some casual attendees scratching their heads, which surprised Church. “I was shocked because I played the show that I went out there to play,” he told Rolling Stone. “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.”

Some attendees were exhilarated by the one-of-a kind show at Stagecoach:

Others, not so much, with reports on social media of attendees leaving mid-show to to attend Nickelback’s performance at the Palomino stage. Palm Springs Desert Sun reporter Brian Blueskye described the scene as an “unplugged jam session” that “sent festivalgoers for the exit of the Empire Polo Club starting about 15 minutes in, a sight that could be best described as Moses parting the Red Sea” in his review.

Representatives for Stagecoach did not respond to a request for comment. A representative for Church said he declined to comment beyond Church’s statement.

Following well-received sets Saturday night (April 29) by Post Malone (who was joined by Dwight Yoakam, Sara Evans and Brad Paisley) and Miranda Lambert (who was joined by Reba McEntire), Stagecoach concludes Sunday with a closing set by Morgan Wallen.

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