Country star Eric Church has a large, dedicated fanbase he endearingly calls his “Church choir.” Unfortunately for some of the members of that choir, Church is just as dedicated to the North Carolina Tar Heels.

UNC and Duke are facing off in the Final Four of the March Madness tournament Saturday night. It’s one of college basketball’s biggest rivalries, and it could potentially be the final game for Duke’s Coach K, who announced last year he was retiring at the end of this season.

Church — who is a North Carolina native — really wanted to be there.

So he canceled his sold-out show at an arena in San Antonio Saturday night to make it happen.

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“This Saturday, my family and I are going to stand together to cheer on the Tar Heels as the team has made it to the Final Four,” he wrote in an email to his fans, The Washington Post reported. “As a lifelong Carolina basketball fan, I’ve watched Carolina and Duke battle over the years but to have them matchup in the Final Four for the first time in history of the NCAA Tournament is any sports enthusiast’s dream.

“This is also the most selfish thing I’ve ever asked the Choir to do: to give up your Saturday night plans with us so that I can have this moment with my family and sports community,” Church added. “Thanks for letting me go here and be with the Tar Heels.”

Eric Church says he will make it up to fans

On April 1, Church thanked his fans in San Antonio for their understanding, and said he would put on a free show later this year for those who had bought tickets and were planning to attend.

“Thank you San Antonio for letting me take my family to this game,” he wrote in a statement shared to Facebook. “It took a minute to figure out how and when I could properly express my thanks. I will be coming to Whitewater Amphitheater in New Braunfels, Texas, on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022 for a ONE of a kind FREE show for those of you who bought tickets and were planning to attend our cancelled San Antonio show. Details to be announced soon.”

Fans praised Church’s announcement on social media.

“I have always loved Eric Church and this is just one more reason,” one fan wrote on Facebook. “Class act! Well deserved family time. If you’re a die hard sports fan, you get it.”

“If you’re not from NC, it’s hard to understand what a huge deal this game is,” another wrote. “I’m sure it was a difficult decision, but he deserves the chance to make great memories too, and he did at least try to make up for the canceled show.”

How did Eric Church fans initially react to the cancellation?

When Church initially canceled his show in San Antonio, many of his fans seemed to appreciate his honesty — after all, artists aren’t required to inform the public of their reason for canceling shows, and some have even canceled concerts or entire tours due to low sales, Variety reported.

But others were not as forgiving.

On Twitter, some fans said Church shouldn’t have scheduled a show during this time if he was a real basketball fan — although the tour was planned over a year from Saturday night’s game. Some shared how much the cancellation was costing them. For some who planned to fly in from out of state and stay in a hotel, that amount was in the thousands.

“An entire weekend’s travel plans up in smoke,” one fan wrote, according to The Washington Post. “Keep treating your fans this way and you won’t have any left.”

But Church has spent years developing a strong connection with his fans — everything from fighting ticket scalpers to make tickets more affordable to playing lengthy shows to releasing albums to his fan clubs before the general public.

“If there’s anyone who could get away with making a whole lot of them angry, it’s Church — and although this has the makings of a public relations mess, he’s built up enough goodwill that he’s likely to escape it,” wrote Emily Yahr for The Washington Post.

The bigger picture

This unusual moment, though, has the potential to go beyond Church and his fans, according to Kyle Coroneos, editor of the website Saving Country Music.

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“The situation takes a significant step in a perilous direction where privileged entertainers can cancel events on a whim to serve their own purposes as opposed to making hard-working fans who’ve paid good money to see their favorite artists perform their priority,” Coroneos wrote.

“Missing things like basketball games is a minor penance they have to pay to fulfill their performing commitments,” he added. “In 2020, Eric Church was named the CMA Entertainer of the Year in large part due to the type of precedent he set as a live performer. Hopefully, he’s not setting an example his peers will follow with this move.”

Church was one of the first musicians to return to touring amid the pandemic. Last April, Vivint Arena announced its first new, full-capacity show in more than a year with Church’s Gather Again tour stop in Salt Lake City that takes place on April 30, the Deseret News reported.

“I just want to play shows,” Church said in a press release at the time. “Politics’ job is to divide — that’s how you win elections. Those things that unite us are music and sports. The times when, whether you’re a Democrat or Republican or whatever, you throw your arm around the person next to you. We need that. I need that.”

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