If you haven’t heard the soulful voice of Oliver Anthony in the last eight weeks, I truly do not know where you’ve been.
Many Missourians were able to listen to him live Saturday night, as his voice echoed through the Ozarks during the Appalachia Meets the Ozarks festival at Big River Outdoors Campground in Irondale.
Folks traveled to the Ozarks from as far as California, Montana, North Carolina, New York and Minnesota with the sole purpose of seeing this show, which featured local Missouri talent as well as other RadioWV artists. Limited tickets for the show sold out within an hour of going on sale, with each following drop selling out in minutes.
The ginger bearded singer has amassed an average of 2 million followers across social platforms since the self-written hit “Rich Men North of Richmond” was uploaded to YouTube on Aug. 8. The clip featured Anthony wearing a t-shirt and bluejeans, tucked back in the woods of his Farmville, Virginia property alongside his dogs, playing his Gretsch G9220 Bobtail Resonator.
Within days of the upload, the song snagged the top spot on the U.S. iTunes all-genres chart, followed by No. 1 on Spotify U.S. and Apple Music charts a few days later. Soon, it would knock out regular reigning Billboard chart-toppers Taylor Swift, Morgan Wallen and Luke Combs to claim No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, a place he kept for two weeks straight. This record-shattering statistic made him the first artist ever to soar to the top spot with no prior chart history.
The song, which many see as politically charged, has challenged society to ponder modern working-class issues and even urged commentary from the likes of John Rich, Joe Rogan, conservative commentators Jack Posobiec and Matt Walsh amongst many others. Just weeks after its release, the song became a talking point of the GOP presidential debate. Though it was immediately labeled a right-wing anthem, Anthony was quick to comment.
“It’s aggravating seeing people on conservative news trying to identify with me like I’m one of them,” the singer said on a YouTube video. “It’s aggravating to see certain musicians and politicians act like we’re buddies, like we’re fighting the same struggle here.”
At one point, he told the crowd their “FJB” chants were distracting him and accompanied them with a few strums of his guitar while they “got it out of their system,” further demonstrating that he transcends the current political environment with his anti-establishment message.
Anthony has kept himself free of interviews with the press, and told fans that he will not sign any deals or sell any percentage of his music.
“There’s no amount of money that is worth risking the direct line of communication you and I currently have,” he told his Facebook fans after hiring two Nashville agents to assist with scheduling a 2024 tour, which is expected to include international dates.
“There was no ‘major industry deal’ signed. These articles make it seem like I signed with a record label. Booking agents don't even have contracts to sign, it's all verbal,” he explained. “When the music first exploded, the selfish part of me wanted to just go back in the woods and not come back out for a long while. But I realize that this is a lot bigger than just me now. I've been given a wonderful opportunity and I feel compelled to be respectful and diligent with it.”
Out of respect for Anthony and his expressed view of his portrayal in the media since his viral fame, I declined to request an interview. However, the time I spent chatting with him while he signed autographs and took photos with fans after the show told me everything I needed to know.
Anthony is one of us.
From the moment he walked onstage, he was met with the roar of the Ozarks crowd and shared a simple smile as he took it all in.
“There've been some awesome people out here playing today and I want you all to know that a lot of the people who came out, including us… it wasn’t a money trip for us,” he told the crowd.
“A lot of the money went into building this venue to give you guys a better place for live music. And that’s the case with a lot of these artists today. They wanted to help support this project and get us all together on one stage, so thanks to everyone who showed up to help make this happen.”
The stage was simply set, featuring Anthony with his guitar and fellow traveling guitarist Joey Davis, who played a full acoustic set. Before he ever strummed a chord, he opened his bible and read from Ecclesiastes 3:3-8.
“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot;
A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to tear down and a time to build;
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance;
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them;
A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to search and a time to give up;
A time to keep and a time to throw away;
A time to tear and a time to mend;
A time to be silent and a time to speak;
A time to love and a time to hate;
A time for war and a time for peace.”
He then picked up his guitar and got straight into the music. The crowd erupted as he changed the lyrics of “Virginia,” to say “They don’t never sing songs ‘bout Missourah but Missourah, she’s always a singing to me.” His setlist also included “Richmond,” “Ain’t Got a Dollar,” “90 Some Chevy,” “I’ve Got to Get Sober,” and more.
Anthony also played a cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” and a rare encore, self-written “Rich Mans Gold.”
The crowd was eclectic and kept an intense energy throughout the day. The first artist took the stage at noon and music continued until Anthony hit the stage around 10 p.m. Dozens of small campfires popped up throughout the crowd as the temperature dropped to the low 40s, filling the night air with pillars of smoke. To which Anthony said, “It even smells like home out here.”
After playing for an hour and a half, Anthony met fans at his merchandise trailer and stayed well into the morning hours to sign autographs and take photos with fans.
"We're going to do a meet and greet after the show, against my better judgement maybe... There's going to be a little bit of a line," he smiled after playing his viral hit. "But we'll take a picture with you, we'll sign merch. As long as y'all are here we'll wait."
His grin never faded and you could feel his authenticity throughout the evening. Anthony was supported by Noah Mesey, Jake Stringer, Jackie Tyler and the Locals, The Jenkins Twins, The Root Diggers, MarDe Brooks, Sam Eplin, Keegan Boyer, Ian Ferguson, Donavan Hill and Danny “Bo” Smith.
Though there were estimated to be over 5,000 in attendance for the sold out show, Big River Outdoors Campground kept traffic flowing and made entering and exiting the venue a breeze with complimentary shuttles to and from the festival. Dozens of vendors offered food, beverages, sweets, cornhole and more.
"Thanks to everyone who came out this weekend & enjoyed a day full of fantastic live music," the venue stated on Facebook following the show. "Thanks everyone for the kind words but most of all thanks to all of our amazing friends, family and God for making this dream of ours into a reality."
To view a full photo album from the event, click HERE.
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