Church capped off the Saturday night Nissan Stadium show, offering a freewheeling, six-song set that mixed cover tracks, hits and deeper cuts, and included a snippet of Little Feat’s “Sailing Shoes.”

He launched with “Country Music Jesus,” from his 2011 album, Chief.

“It’s late in the evening. We are going to keep it funky,” Church said, clad in his signature dark sunglasses.

The singer lived up to his promise. Bolstering powerful backup vocalists and a horn section, Church proceeded into a set that included “Hanging Around,” “Bad Mother Trucker” and a groovy revamped version of “Drink in My Hand,” before offering up “Sailing Shoes,” and his own hits “Cold One” and “Smoke a Little Smoke.”

The deft mix of song styles was a sterling artistic statement from Church — an artist with an arsenal of hits strong enough to allow for his 2019 Double Down Tour, which found him playing back-to-back nights of unique sets in each city he played — with no opening act. His CMA Fest performance was the kind of show that would thrill any die-hard Eric Church fan, the kind of fan who has seen several of his shows, has heard him play his hits before, and craves more of his range of artistry. But for a general country music fan who may not have experienced a full-fledged Eric Church show before (or not in a long time), it’s logical to see how a general fan might have felt disappointed to have not experienced a CMA Fest set filled with hits. Church’s set was a testament to his artistic merit, but a multi-artist CMA Fest stage may not have been the right setting for it.

Church has also gained a reputation for performing for fans long into the evening. Earlier during his CMA Fest set, he noted to fans that he “had nowhere else to be” and could “play all night” (granted, it’s a saying that many artists routinely use during concerts), which is perhaps partly why the ending of Church’s set seemed abrupt to many in the stadium. He ended his set with a quick “Thank you” to the crowd and walked offstage. The stage stayed dark for a moment, then the stadium lights quickly came on, resulting in fans expressing their disappointment at both the abrupt ending and the set list, making for an awkward ending to what was overall a sturdy, star-studded Saturday night at CMA Fest.

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