On Eric Church Canceling Concert to Attend NCAA Basketball Game

In an unprecedented move—and from a guy who is otherwise known for hard touring, electrifying performances, and taking care of his fans above everything else—Eric Church has chosen to cancel a show scheduled for Saturday, April 2nd at San Antonio’s AT&T Center, and with the excuse that he wants to attend a basketball game.

Granted, perhaps this isn’t any basketball game. Fierce college basketball rivals the Duke Blue Devils will be taking on the North Carolina Tar Heels in the NCAA Final Four for a spot in the College Basketball championship game. It is the first time in Final Four history the two teams will square off against each other. Though not an alum of either school (Church attended Appalachian State), he is from North Carolina, and is a big Tar Heels fan.

Nonetheless, to cancel such a massive concert event to attend a basketball game is pretty extraordinary, and many ticket holders are not happy about it. At all. As one fan said, “$800 airfare for two from Miami to Austin, $950 car rental, $500/night hotel on the river in San Antonio, $2000 for 2 front row tickets (second time) all for naught. I hope North Carolina wins for your sake. I’m beyond disappointed. Damn bro.”

What makes it worse is that it’s happened on such short notice, and Church didn’t reschedule or postpone the event, he just cancelled it outright. As illustrated above, numerous ticket holders planning to be there were flying in for the event, traveling from long distances, booked hotel rooms, planned vacation time around it, made sitting arrangements for their kids, and other non-cancel-able, non-refundable commitments, especially since the concert is in a destination city in San Antonio.

An email from Eric Church sent to ticket holders on Tuesday stated,

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.

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 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. However, it’s that same type of passion felt by the people who fill the seats at our concerts that makes us want to be part of a crowd at a game of this significance.

Woody Durham always said, “Go where you go and do what you do,” thanks for letting me go here and be with the Tar Heels.”

In 2017, Chris Stapleton postponed eight shows after he broke a critical finger on his picking hand, and fans were disappointed then, and questioned if the move was warranted. And again, those were postponements, not outright cancellations. Eric Church has earned a lot of social capital with his “Church Choir” over the years by taking care of them, and some will come to his defense with his characterization of this as a “family moment.”

But Eric Church fans left holding the bag in San Antonio have a right to be angry, and 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. Massive stars like Eric Church are given opportunities average music fans can only dream of. Missing things like basketball games is a minor penance they have to pay to fulfill their performing commitments.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, cancelling concerts, dropping out of festivals, and postponing tours was strongly discouraged throughout the music industry, except for in extreme cases, like a death in one’s family, or serious illness. If an artist cancelled, it could be seen as catastrophic to their careers, and artists regularly took the stage even when seriously ill to fulfill their commitments. As the old saying goes, “The show must go on,” and artists that didn’t go on got bad reputations. See George “No Show” Jones.

Since the pandemic though, promoters, venues, and fans seem to have a lot more stomach for cancellations, which perhaps is a good thing to some extent for musicians that a lot is expected of. But the sort of laissez-faire approach to fulfilling your concert dates by some performers post pandemic has now made fans making plans to see their favorite artists more perilous.

As venues and some artists complain about the slow progress of fans returning to full capacity, part of it is driven by apprehension by fans worried something may be cancelled right out from under them, just like Eric Church did to some 18,000 fans in San Antonio.

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. Otherwise, it could erode the trust the public has that when they rearrange their lives and spend their hard earned money on a ticket, that experience will ultimately be fulfilled.

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