Today, country star Eric Church is one of Nashville's big names. The 2020 CMA Entertainer of the Year grew up on equal parts heavy metal and country, and he has the pyrotechnics in his live show to prove it. Despite playing the Super Bowl last year and dropping his chart-topping album trilogy Heart & Soul earlier this year, Church was once just a North Carolina native and Nashville newcomer, fighting to get his blue-collar songs heard.
In October 2008, Mountain Stage host Larry Groce reeled in a young Church for an acoustic performance at the Paramount Center for the Arts in Bristol, Tenn. It highlights an artist ready to take off and tour his first album. He performs "Without You" from Carolina, the 2009 album that eventually became his first Platinum. "One of the fastest rising stars in country music, he comes in through the honest side — through Kristofferson, Prine, Steve Earle and Haggard," Groce said of Church. "The title song [of his first album] — I love it. 'Sinners Like Me.' That tells it like it is."
The artist had been on the road for 46 straight days when he stopped by Mountain Stage with multi-instrumentalist Jeff Hyde. Church admitted his guest was excited but nervous, sharing an acoustic bill with venerable bluegrass royalty Del McCoury. "Anybody who has ever seen us before has never seen us like this. Normally, we are really loud and people are really drunk, naked and running around," Church told the audience after opening with "Guys Like Me." "You are getting something tonight we have never done before. We are going to sit acoustic. I am a songwriter and I'm going to tell you some stories, if that is alright with you guys."
It was more than all right. By the time Church tossed out his mountain-grown songs, like "Livin' Part of Life" — a song he wrote about having grown up fishing on the Elk River — the "Church Choir" (as his fans are known) was clapping, whooping and hollering.
This Mountain Stage performance was originally published Jan. 20, 2011.