Eric Church is never one to play it safe, especially when it comes to awards shows, and he chose to highlight his potent song “The Snake” on Sunday’s Academy of Country Music Awards with the help of Ashley McBryde. Written out of frustration with the divisive state of the country and a political system that often seems more intent on winning than fighting for the people it’s supposed to serve, the Desperate Man track was an edgy, topical choice for a prime-time audience.
Performing in front of a moving graphic of a rattlesnake and backed by an ominous hooded choir, Church and McBryde traded lines in the parable, which ponders the greater of two evils.
Church is a longtime fan and proponent of McBryde, who, after listening to her EP Jalopies & Expensive Guitars, invited her to join him for a performance of one of her own songs, “Bible and a .44,” on his Holdin’ My Own Tour. It was a viral moment for McBryde, and led to a bidding war among record labels that eventually ended with a contract at Warner Music Nashville. (Church and McBryde share the same management company.)
Earlier in the show, McBryde, who already won New Female Artist of the Year, sang an abbreviated version of her autobiographical song “Girl Goin’ Nowhere,” illuminated by a lone spotlight in a small circular stage in the center of the MGM Grand Arena. Despite being truncated, the performance received a standing ovation.