Metallica frontman James Hetfield is a big country music fan, and he proved it this weekend at his band’s first Orion Music + More Festival, which was held this past weekend in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Among the rock acts on the bill was none other than Eric Church.

Although Church and Metallica are managed by the same company, it seems likely that Hetfield truly wanted him on the bill, and that Church’s booking was no inside job. When it was Church’s moment to perform, Hetfield himself took to the stage to introduce him, telling the audience that Church is “the true rebel of country music.”

Church played the festival’s main stage, a position that proved challenging for most of the other artists. That’s because Metallica have what they call a “snake-pit” in front of their stage: a large fenced-in area, with attendance limited to Metallica’s fan club members, many of whom didn’t stay there throughout the day. Some of those other main stage acts (including indie-rock groups Best Coast and Modest Mouse), seemed daunted by the thin crowd in front of them.

Church had no such problem: he had a good size crowd waiting for him – he was the last artist before the main event. But it was more than that – fans were shown on giant video screens singing along to several of his songs, including “Creepin’,” “Drink In My Hand” and “Jack Daniels.” During the latter tune, he noted that he had some of that whiskey the song was named for, and “I intend to go pretty deep into this bottle!”

Throughout his set, he thanked James Hetfield and Metallica, and noted that he and his band are fans of their 1991 self-titled LP. (Also known as “The Black Album,” it contains the hits “Enter Sandman” and “Nothing Else Matters,” and Metallica played it in full later that night.) Church said he enjoyed the fact that the festival didn’t care about genres; and then, noting that he was in New Jersey, he went into his hit “Springsteen,” about the state’s favorite musical son.

Church closed with “Smoke A Little Smoke,” telling the audience that he was advised not to release the song after recording it, and laughed that all the people who gave him that advice “can kiss my a**!” As dried ice poured onto the stage, his band played the riff from Black Sabbath’s paean to marijuana, “Sweet Leaf.”

The fans were familiar with Sabbath song, and seemingly in tune with its message, proving that the distance between country and metal isn’t that far after all.

— Brian Ives, CBS Local

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