Most performers promote their latest single on awards shows. Not Eric Church. Mainstream country's hardest rocker is taking a different approach.
Church invited Lzzy Hale of Halestorm to appear with him Wednesday night on the CMT Music Awards for a performance of the album track "That's Damn Rock & Roll" — not his current single or recent No. 1 hit.
"I think it's an opportunity to do one thing that you're not normally going to do and you let it live in that space forever," Church said. "That's what I like about them. You can do it one time and it will get the maximum amount of eyes and it will live as that one show's performance forever. It makes sense to do something different."
Along with Church's hard-rock mash-up, Jason Derulo will join Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line and an unnamed guest to kick off the CMT Music Awards show, airing live from the Bridgestone Arena on the music network (8 p.m. EDT).
John Legend will team up with Jennifer Nettles and Hunter Hayes to perform his No. 1 hit "All of Me" along with other instances of pop cultural cross-pollination.
Miranda Lambert leads all nominees with six, followed by Bryan and FGL with five apiece, and Taylor Swift and Keith Urban at four.
While the fan-voted CMT Awards are aimed at celebrating the country genre, they've been the playground of rock, rap and R&B stars, many of whom like Lionel Richie, Neil Young, Fall Out Boy, Jason Mraz and OneRepublic all got nominations along with mainstream country stars.
That's also why Hale is on the show. Country's infatuation with other genres has accelerated in recent years, and Church has been especially energetic at pushing the boundaries. "That's Damn Rock & Roll" is one of the songs on his new album, "The Outsiders," that shows Church is looking for the edge of what the majority of fans are willing to accept.
"Honestly I think that the industry overall — the rock industry, country, whatever genre you take a fancy to — I think it needs more people like that," Hale said. "It needs more people taking risks and being, for lack of a better term, a badass and not necessarily going straight by the rules. Crossing a few boundaries, crossing a few genre lines."
Church said Hale is one of his favorite singers and her music meshes with his. That's why he invited Hale and her Grammy-winning band on tour this summer. Most of this came out of the blue for Hale, who hadn't met Church until rehearsals this week.
"I'm kind of what my country friends call a rock ambassador," Hale said with a laugh.