In his first major interview, Oliver Anthony’s co-manager Draven Riffe talked to Billboard about the whirlwind that has surrounded the Virginia country singer over the past week-and-a-half since his everyman anthem “Rich Men North of Richmond” went viral and record labels have clamoring to sign him.
On Saturday (Aug. 19), near a playground in front of the venue before Anthony’s afternoon show at Eagle Creek Golf Club and Grill in Moyock, N.C., Riffe explained how he met the singer-songwriter and why Anthony’s newly assembled team is “taking it slow” when it comes to weighing the multitude of offers coming his way, even those from high-profile artists. During the conversation, thousands of fans flocked to a nearby outdoor stage surrounded by a few food and beverage trucks, waiting for Anthony, whom Riffe said was saving his voice and, therefore, declined to speak with Billboard.
Riffe only became aware of Anthony (whose real name is Christopher Anthony Lunsford; his stage name is in honor of his grandfather, Oliver Anthony) within the past month. A Missouri friend of Riffe, from the manager’s days as a touring musician, sent him Anthony’s music. Riffe knew it was perfect for radiowv, the YouTube page Riffe co-launched in 2018 that highlights unsigned Americana and country musicians from the Virginia/West Virginia region.
“I listened to Oliver’s music and I just knew he was special,” Riffe tells Billboard. “Normally, it’s ‘OK, this person has a good song and I want to help them out and get them on the channel.’ With Oliver, I called on my friends and family and, on my way to record him and also on my way back, to tell them how special [he was].”
Riffe recorded Anthony outside on his farm in Virginia, where both had the feeling they were embarking on something bigger than just posting the artist’s music. “Personally, I feel like God had a hand in Oliver’s music,” Riffe says. “Me and him, we prayed before the session. Me and him together. We both prayed before we recorded ‘Rich Men North of Richmond.’ We both had an interesting experience the whole weekend. We just felt like it was for a purpose that was way bigger than us, just two old regular dudes, you know what I mean?”
“Rich Men North of Richmond,” which takes on politicians, taxes, welfare and other issues from a struggling working man’s perspective, exploded after radiowv posted it Aug. 7 and has since garnered more than 24 million views on radiowv’s YouTube page. By Aug. 11, the song had reached No. 1 on the iTunes Country chart, outpacing the former chart leader, Jason Aldean’s controversial track “Try That in a Small Town.” The song is a contender to debut at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 that arrives Monday (Aug. 21). Other songs from Anthony, who has been recording music since 2021, also climbed up iTunes and Spotify’s charts, including “Aint Gotta Dollar” and “I’ve Got to Get Sober.”
“In our opinion, God has chosen to speak through Oliver and to speak to all Americans through his music, all around the world,” Riffe says. “We’ve gotten comments from Zimbabwe, every country you could think of.”
Riffe, who manages Anthony with businessman Brian Prentice, says the push has been organic.
“There was not a whole lot of planning involved,” he says. “We just knew if we got the video out there people were going to love the song and it would resonate with a lot of folks. There wasn’t some big massive planning team around this. I had a few friends who helped us push the song out there, like my friend Josh [Baer], who has a page called Country Central. We all coordinated and Oliver’s following as well, we just tried to push it out there all at once with our little group of friends and that’s how it happened.”
Almost immediately, social media jumped on the song. Even though Anthony said in a video that “I sit pretty dead center down the aisle on politics and always have,” among those amplifying the song were right wing pundits and politicians, including Joe Rogen, Matt Walsh, Breitbart and Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, through posts on X (formerly Twitter) and other outlets. Anthony’s followers have also soared, reaching 743,000 on Instagram and nearly 400,000 on X.
High-profile artists — including John Rich, who offered to produce his music, and Jamey Johnson joined him onstage last weekend at a free show in North Carolina — have also provided support.
“There have been other artists who have reached out, honestly just to be a mentor,” Riffe says, namechecking Brent Smith of Shinedown, Jelly Roll, Ryan Upchurch and Randy Travis’ team. Johnson, who Riffe says showed up unprompted last weekend, meant a great deal to Anthony. “He got to talk to Jamey, which was sentimental to Oliver because he grew up burning the speakers up on his vehicle listening to Jamey, so to get up there [on stage] your first time — that was special to Oliver.”
Riffe says, “We’re literally open to working with everybody,” but that no decision has been made as to when and with whom he will enter the studio.
Similarly, though record labels and booking agents have aggressively chased Anthony — one label head told Billboard, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this before” — Anthony posted on Facebook on Thursday (Aug. 17) that he was in no rush to sign a deal. “People in the music industry give me blank stares when I brush off 8 million dollar offers,” Anthony wrote.
Riffe affirms that Anthony plans to do as much as he and his team can themselves. “As far as taking things slow, people act as if it’s so complicated, but really, it doesn’t have to be,” Riffe says. “He could play a stadium show tomorrow, but it’s about the music and it’s about making sure it’s right… we just want to take things slow and we’ve built a tight-knit team.”
Taking it slow entails booking their own shows, including an Oct. 7 concert at Big River Outdoors Campground in Irondale, Mo. From Anthony’s standpoint, the idea is to lift other artists and friends as his own star ascends.
“Oliver’s very passionate, not just about getting his message out, but helping a lot of other musicians [get] their message heard,” Riffe says. “That’s a key part of it. Yes, he can play some big shows with big musicians, but he’s very passionate about bringing other unknown, unheard musicians up and helping them get their music out as well.”
Riffe says that help extends to providing jobs for those in Anthony’s community. “We’re doing all the booking ourselves,” he says, adding the Anthony is booked through the end of the year. “We’re trying to keep everything in-house as much as we can… If we could have a hand in helping get a person a job they’ll love then we want to do that rather than contracting it out to something that we don’t even know where the money is going.”
Though Anthony is in no hurry to sign any major label deals, that doesn’t mean more music isn’t coming. Riffe says there are five more acoustic videos to roll out from the sessions radiowv recorded at Anthony’s farm that will hit radiowv’s YouTube page and streaming platforms soon.
“That way they’ll get to see the actual live performance and then a more cleaned up version of the song that they get to listen to that’s from the video they’ve seen,” he says.
Assistance provided by Melinda Newman