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Stagecoach 2016: Backstage with Friday’s headliner, Eric Church

Eric Church headlined the opening day of 2016 Stagecoach
Eric Church headlined the opening day of 2016 Stagecoach
(Allen B. Schaben/Los Angeles Times )

The Stagecoach Country Music Festival was a new player on the festival circuit back in 2007 when it premiered. So was North Carolina country singer and songwriter Eric Church, who had released his debut album less than a year before getting the call to be part of the inaugural lineup at Stagecoach.

So he might be forgiven if his memory of the day he delivered the first performance on the Stagecoach main stage is a little hazy.

“Someone was telling me I played that first one, but to tell you the truth, I don’t remember a whole lot about it,” Church said in an interview on his tour bus Friday, a few moments before he was to step on stage for the fourth time at Stagecoach.

“We did so many shows that year,” he explained.

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Things are very different this time around, and he will probably recall the experience more clearly a decade from now. He’ll be able to look back on headlining the opening night of the 2016 edition of Stagecoach, a sea of some 75,000 fans spread out before him across Indio’s Empire Polo Field. This year’s other headliners are Carrie Underwood (Saturday) and Luke Bryan (Sunday).

He included the title track from his latest album, “Mr. Misunderstood,” a new collection that appeared almost without warning last November. It came so quickly that Church won’t even be launching his new tour to support it until January.

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“I didn’t want a new album, I didn’t need a new album,” he said with a smile, as he sat just a few feet from his wife, Katherine, who accompanied him for his return trip to Stagecoach. But as he has explained in other interviews, the songs on “Mr. Misunderstood” came to him quickly last year, and he wrote, recorded and released the album in just about one month.

He said a full-scale arena tour will be coming next year.

Recalling Church’s first performance almost 10 years ago is another story for Stacy Vee, director of festival talent for Goldenvoice who books all the acts each year for Stagecoach.

“Eric was the first artist who opened the main stage at that first year,” Vee said recently, “and to have him back for the 10-year anniversary is a big moment for us.”

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