Country superstar Eric Church may be seeing a regional fluctuation in his popularity this week. His status in his native North Carolina? Probably on the rise, with the news that he’d do anything to cheer on his beloved Tar Heels in an NCAA basketball tournament game this Saturday. Church’s stock in Texas could be taking at least a momentary dip, though, after he announced Tuesday that he was canceling a sold-out show at AT&T Center in San Antonio, scheduled for that same date, to attend the game.

Church, generally regarded as one of the straight shooters of country, was nothing if not transparent in stating a reason for canceling the April 2 concert. In a statement to ticketholders — sent out by Ticketmaster, accompanied by an automatic refund notice — he admitted that calling off the gig four days before showtime was “the most selfish thing” he has done in regard to his relationship with his fan base.

Church’s message to fans read: “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 year 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.”

He continued, “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.’ [T]hanks for letting me go here and be with the Tar Heels.”

Artists aren’t required to publicly declare why they nix concerts, and many quietly cancel shows or entire tours due to low sales… or bow out for murkier reasons, as with the most infamous indefinite postponement of 2022, Adele’s Las Vegas run. (“It’s arguably more sincere than ‘my show ain’t ready’ 24 hours before the doors open,” snarked one concert biz observer.) But there isn’t much precedent for a major artist doing a no-show to attend a sporting event, even if his fellow UNC fans might think calling this a sporting event is akin to calling the Second Coming a religious service.

A rep for Church said the reaction to the cancellation on the artist’s “Church Choir” Facebook fan page — which is locked to outsiders — is “overwhelmingly positive”… as opposed to the wider twittersphere, where Church looked to mostly be taking a hammering for his decision, as of Tuesday night.

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Eric Church’s message to Texas fans, via Ticketmaster

Some country fans said it was impossible to judge Church if you aren’t also from North Carolina. “The response to @ericchurch canceling his show in Texas to go to the Final Four game is fair,” tweeted Casey Young, a writer for the Whiskey Riff website who also hails from NC. “I’d be upset if I’d made plans to be there…*but* I don’t think you can really understand the significance of the game unless you’re from NC or are completely diehard for any given team… I’m torn because I truly see both sides and if I had a chance to be at that game, I’d have my ass there no matter what. But I feel for all the thousands of people who were canceled on after booking flights, finding childcare, etc. just to be able to go to the show.”

Coby DuBose, a Houston defense lawyer, didn’t have much sympathy with Church for not foreseeing the possibility of the matchup, however historic: “If you’re obsessed with basketball, don’t schedule a concert during the Final Four.”

Some wondered why Church abruptly canceled the show outright, instead of merely postponing it to a date outside of basketball season, or after his current run of dates ends in August. The artist’s spokesperson said the singer “could not commit to a reschedule date at this time” and did not want to leave ticketholders holding the bag.

Wrote Kyle ”Trigger” Coroneos, editor of the Saving Country Music website, “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. … 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. “

Even on Twitter, though, where much of the immediate response was brutal, some defended the idea of a hard-working entertainer being allowed to grant himself a time-out in the middle of a tour’s worth of two-and-a-half-hour shows. “Honestly, good for him,” wrote Marissa Gomez. “I cant even imagine having almost every weekend of the year planned out a year or two in advance. Eric Church, enjoy the game!”