When country music superstar Eric Church was in his come-up days, he would send guitarist Driver Williams out first to play Pantera instrumentals to drive out older listeners, according to a 2012 Rolling Stone profile. “It didn’t interest me to play for people who were 80 years old," Church told the magazine. ”They’ll be dead soon anyway. By the time you come back on tour and play again, they’ll be gone.”
Church's hour-long set at Austin City Limits festival was ostensibly geared toward the country music crowd, but the 36-year-old singer/guitarist may be the most metal-geared country musician today. Like Hank3, Church augments his country roots with subtle (and not-so-subtle) nods to his love of hard rock and metal. Purists may scoff, but here's why metalheads who wouldn't think of listening to country should check him out.
1. His Massive Intro
Most of the bands we checked out at ACL employed the same tired tropes you've heard for years. We know it's great to be here. We know you love Austin. Yes, there is good barbecue here, thank you for noticing. Church treated his set like a stadium show, opening with the sounds of planes zooming overhead and blaring air raid sirens. A few people freaked out for a second, thinking Austin's Zilker Park was under attack. Church would probably laugh at this.
2. His Fans Crowd Surf, Throw Up Devil Horns
Church had one of the most diverse fanbases of the festival, with older fans staying back and awkwardly dancing. Younger fans threw up devil horns and crowd surfed like it was a Slayer show, egged on by Church's beer-chugging and nods to Jack Daniels.
3. His Guitarist
Meet Jeff Cease:
You may not know his name, but you've probably heard him before. He spent three years as lead guitarist for the Black Crowes, but now him and his upside down troll doll goatee perform with the country singer. He looks like he's lived a life written about in country songs, but his powerful riffs bolstered every Church song today.
4. His Band's Solos
Cease was only one of a handful of guitarists onstage, with each member throwing in a few seconds of metal licks and Williams taking an extended arpeggiated solo reminiscent of early Metallica.
5. His Black Sabbath Love
On record, there's nothing aggressive about "Smoke a Little Smoke," Church's midtempo third single from his 2009 album Carolina. But when the singer closed Sunday's set with it, the band augmented the track with a portion of Black Sabbath's classic ode to weed "Sweet Leaf." Lighters everywhere left pockets and began their upward march.
Eric Church on "Smoke a Little Smoke" and His Letter From Bruce Springsteen