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WE Fest can be career step for musicians like Eric Church

For 30 years now, the WE Fest country music festival has been providing opportunities for fans to see some of the biggest stars in the business, all in one jam-packed weekend of music.

But it has also become a not-to-be-missed chance to discover emerging artists before they hit it big.

Eric Church is one of those performers whom WE Fest Vice President John Gourley describes as a "superstar in waiting."

With just one previous WE Fest appearance under his belt, in 2010, Church has already discovered a fondness for the festival and its fans.

"We're a band that started out playing in clubs," he said in a Friday telephone interview. "There are some places you go to, especially when you're struggling, that make all the bad gigs worthwhile, and we've found a lot of those in Minnesota and Wisconsin ... it's been a special place for us. We've been able to build a fan base there that we didn't have anywhere else."

WE Fest, in particular, is one of those places that Church describes as "pretty cool."

"We're very in your face performers," he said. "When we walk out on stage, we're staring you down, trying to make you blink first. There's a little less of that outdoors, because it's a different environment.

"You're outdoors, you have the elements to deal with, you're a little more spread out, the setting is a little less intense. We have a totally different set for when we play outside. It's a little bit looser, not quite as regimented as an arena tour concert, not as planned out.

"We're not doing that much this summer, maybe 15 shows that are outdoors. For us it's a little different feel, a good break between tours. It's almost a vacation for us, before we start hitting it (touring) hard again in September."

Touring is something that Church has done a lot of this past year with his "Blood, Sweat and Beers Tour," which has sold over 450,000 tickets to date, and will resume this fall.

"I'm not going to be doing as much touring next year," he added, noting that his career "just exploded" when he released his album "Chief" in 2011.

In less than one year, the album has sold more than 1 million copies and was recently certified platinum by the RIAA. He also received his first-ever Grammy Award nomination this year, for Best Country Album, and received the Academy of Country Music's New Solo Vocalist of the Year award in 2011, among other accolades.

"All of a sudden, it's like I'm a 10-year overnight success," he joked.

But all the attention that "Chief" has garnered hasn't really influenced how he makes music, Church added.

"For me all that stuff is great, but it's still all about the music," he said. "That's how we got here. Whether we sold a thousand records, or a million, I'm still going to make the same album.

"It's (selling records and winning awards) not something I'm going to let be the driver of my career. Are we making music that's different and pushing the envelope? That's what's important. Regardless of the sales or the accolades, you have to keep it all about the music, or it will just become about everything else."

Because he's been spending so much time on the road performing, however, Church said making a new record as a follow-up to "Chief" is "still a long ways off."

"I'm not a fan of making records," he said bluntly. "It's the performing and songwriting that I enjoy."

The reason, Church added, is that he's too much of a perfectionist.

"I can't free myself from the process when I'm in it," he said. "I have to really, really dig in. It requires a lot of soul searching and commitment... it puts me in a weird place. I love the finished product, but getting there is... weird.

"I'm not a guy that's going to make a lot of records, but I hope the ones we do make, we put enough effort into them that they'll be worth having."

Fans will have a chance to hear Church's music first hand at WE Fest this Saturday at 8:30 p.m. He is set to take the main stage between Sawyer Brown at 6:15 and Alabama at 10:45.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454