It’s been less than two weeks since the video for Oliver Anthony’s “Rich Men North of Richmond” made its way onto YouTube and the life of the Farmville, Virginia-based country singer hasn’t been the same since. The once-unknown songwriter, who as recently as August 7 claimed to be living off the grid in a camper with his three dogs, has found the kind of viral success that many musicians dream of with the populist anthem, which has been viewed more than 26 million times in its original upload to YouTube, made it to Number One on the iTunes Country chart, and is projected to debut atop the Billboard Hot 100 when the chart is updated on Monday.
In the days since its debut, the song has been praised by conservative commentators including Matt Walsh, Laura Ingraham, and Dan Bongino for its pro-working class, anti-welfare lyrics, leading some listeners to question whether or not its viral success is an authentic representation of consumption habits, or the work of some dark money political agenda now seeking to overtake the charts. Despite still being few in number, Anthony’s live shows seem to confirm that the song has resonated strongly with actual listeners, who turned out in droves for two free performances in eastern North Carolina: the first was last weekend at the Morris Farm Market in Currituck, while the second occurred yesterday at Eagle Creek Golf Club and Grill in Moyock. “There were people who flew in, people that drove down from up north,” Anthony later said on YouTube following the farm market performance. “I mean, hell, we signed and took pictures for a good four hours after the show.”
His Saturday performance in Moyock re-created much of that same enthusiasm. Hundreds of listeners were already present in lawn chairs when I arrived a full three hours before Anthony was scheduled to take the stage, with rows of parked cars stretching out across the greenway and various snacks, drinks, and merch items for sale from local vendors. Tie-dye t-shirts bearing phrases from Anthony’s music were sold alongside bumper stickers with Bible verses and optimistic slogans like “Oliver Anthony 2024” and “Oliver Anthony for President” — a rare instance of non-partisan messaging that also adorned a few patriotic yard signs decorating the surrounding area. One of the venue’s co-owners, Taylor Paasch, says the show was originally scheduled to take place at a roadside shop and eatery called the Currituck Trading Post, but was relocated to the golf club based on the turnout at the farm market gig. “We kind of got lucky and booked him before he blew up,” Paasch tells Rolling Stone. “Someone local recommended him, one of our regulars.”
Local duo Tailgate Down kicked off the day’s performances with a series of country covers that included Toby Keith’s “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” and Luke Combs’ “Hurricane,” as well as their rendition of Prince’s “Purple Rain.” Early guests nodded and sang along, settling into their seats with beers in koozies. Golf carts from the surrounding course zipped by as the sun rose higher and the band’s set teed up a solo performance from Brian Grilli, who opened with the song “Damn Good Day” from his 2017 debut album of the same name. A woman in a reflective vest passed around a 12-gallon bucket adorned with an image of Anthony’s face, collecting donations for an unspecified charity made on behalf of the songwriter, who she says has refused to accept any money for the performance.
After a short break during which the National Anthem was sung, a sprawling mass of attendees — now looking to number in the thousands — reconvened in anticipation of Anthony’s performance. Volunteers in t-shirts bearing the word “SECURITY” talked shop with local law enforcement in tactical gear before leading Anthony and his recently announced co-manager, RadioWV co-founder Draven Riffe, to the stage along with Anthony’s dogs. Dressed in an olive Goochland County t-shirt and wayfarer-style sunglasses, the red-bearded songwriter opened with a few words of thanks for Riffe, who he called the “mastermind behind ‘Rich Men North of Richmond’” through his work with RadioWV. “Draven was doing this as a part-time passion project. He called me the Thursday before we went to video this — he was flagging on the highway for the gas company up in West Virginia and I was in some plant, we could hardly hear each other — and we talked about getting this whole thing set up,” Anthony said onstage. “It’s been a wild couple weeks.”
Riffe is more forthright about his Christian faith in his songwriting (there’s a grainy video on TikTok of him performing in a wood-paneled bar in Wyoming in front of Kanye West, who bought land in the state to lead his own Sunday services). In the moments just before Anthony’s performance, Riffe led a prayer thanking God for the audience’s health and safety — as well as for Anthony’s success. “Lord, I just ask that you protect us and watch over us,” Riffe said. “Help us to glorify you, Lord, through Oliver.” From there, Anthony approached the mic to deliver what might most accurately be described as a Christian sermon. “Whoever loves money never has enough, whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income,” he read from Ecclesiastes. “This, too, is meaningless.”
Then Anthony began to sing. He opened with his song “I Want to go Home” to whistles and applause and ended it with an apology for the strain in his voice before diving into “Aint Gotta Dollar.” Fans of the track, which is currently Number Two on the iTunes Country chart, just behind “Rich Men North of Richmond,” sang along as best they could to a song they likely hadn’t even heard of more than a week ago. He went on to play a song titled “90 Some Chevy” and another called “I Gotta Get Sober” before eventually bringing the audience to their feet with “Rich Men North of Richmond,” which elicited more shouting, cheering, and singing from the crowd.
Unlike his earlier set in Currituck, which included a surprise appearance from outlaw country singer Jamey Johnson, Anthony’s Moyock performance included no special guests. He did, however, revive Johnson’s 2008 single “In Color,” which the two performed together last weekend. Anthony closed to shouts and cheers from the fans before heading off stage to sign autographs. The night wound down around 7 p.m., with the Bonfire Brothers taking over the microphone and fans filing into a sprawling line to have t-shirts, dollar bills, and at least one box of Little Debbie’s Fudge Rounds autographed.
It’s hard to say with certainty just how much the genuine in-person reaction for Anthony is reflected on the charts, but this much is true: On a golf course in North Carolina, the enthusiasm for Anthony’s music went far deeper than any promotional efforts from conservative influencers.