Oliver Anthony, the red-bearded Virginia farmer with a guitar and a distinct twang, has become a virtual overnight sensation with his song “Rich Men North of Richmond,” and a fellow singer says he’s connected because he’s returned to the “roots” of country music, not because he’s making a political statement.
“You hear Oliver Anthony come out, sing this song, and it’s just with emotion and feeling and not a lot of instrumentation. It kind of goes back to the roots of the music,” singer Dewey Via told Fox News Digital.
A YouTube video of Anthony performing an acoustic version of his hit song has amassed more than 17 million views and counting. In his screed against greedy Washington politicians and a lament for the forgotten working class, Anthony frets working “overtime hours for bulls–t pay,” high taxation, money being worthless, the young male suicide epidemic and other societal ills.
“Protest songs are nothing new,” Via said, but this one is clicking with him and others in a way that’s hard to explain, at a time when some critics say mainstream country music has become too pop-oriented.
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“It resonated with me also,” said Via, who hails from near the Richmond, Va., area but now lives and performs in St. Augustine, Fla. “And when I talk with people, most people just seem to think that he’s saying what we’re feeling, and he put it into words… A lot of people are feeling the same way right now. In Washington, D.C., everything is run by wealthy people, and a lot of people who live rural or don’t live that way don’t understand why we’re struggling like we are.”
A Farmville, Va., native, Anthony’s everyman appearance and passionate delivery of the lyrics in a rural setting has been key to its appeal.
“It’s a damn shame what the world’s gotten to / For people like me and people like you / Wish I could just wake up and it not be true, But it is, oh, it is …These rich men north of Richmond / Lord knows they all just wanna have total control,” he sings. In another line that’s drawn attention as a seeming reference to Jeffrey Epstein, he intones, “I wish politicians would look out for miners / And not just minors on an island somewhere.”
In a matter of days, he gained hundreds of thousands of followers on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, and his other songs are getting millions of views on YouTube as well. In video posts he’s done since he’s become a big name and performed in front of a large audience in North Carolina, he’s expressed humility and gratitude for his newfound attention. The song has also supplanted Jason Aldean’s “Try That In A Small Town” atop country music charts.
But the artist and his song’s astonishing rise has engineered blowback in mainstream and progressive media as well, with some outlets dissecting the lyrics as playing into conservative conspiracy theories.
A writer for the left-wing Guardian was annoyed it had won fans like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Arizona Republican Kari Lake, adding his line about “welfare abuse” was a “rightwing talking point.”
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An explainer in Mashable noted the song’s raw energy and imagery had connected with its audience, while fretting, “It also revealed some verses that feel like cribbed right-wing talking points. The supposed working-class anthem rails against overweight people who receive government assistance and references Jeffrey Epstein and child trafficking.” Another writer in The Independent condemned the song as “an artless, blunt-force hissy fit.”
Via said he didn’t take the song as having a political message; it’s just a fact that many people on the fringes of society have a hard time staying ahead in the modern economy.
“I didn’t at all think political when I hear it, and I’ve read some of the same stuff,” he said. “I think everybody, regardless of your political affiliation, is subject to what happens in Washington… You feel left out at times being rural or somebody that doesn’t live in a city center, where most of the rules and stuff are made up or put together. And a lot of rural people just feel left out, I think, and I can see that he resonates with a lot of folks in America. I don’t think it’s politically motivated at all, honestly. I think it just speaks a lot of truth.”
“Just working-class people are struggling a lot harder right now just to pay the electric bill or to buy the groceries, and you have folks that are kind of removed from that economically, if for no other reason that [they] don’t feel those same pangs as I’d say, normal, everyday Americans. [They] kind of make the rules and make things seem to be more advantageous toward the wealthy, it seems at times, than it is toward working-class people.”
On the right, the song has mainly received adulation, although one National Review writer criticized the song’s lyrics as defeatist in a land of opportunity, while also praising it as having “authentic passion” in an industry of “Nashville pop-country sludge.”
In any event, the song has generated undeniable discussion and become a cultural lightning rod.
“If you don’t connect with your audience, you have no audience,” Via said. A gifted flat-pick guitarist, he pursued his music career full-time in his 40s and is grateful to be able to make ends meet doing what he loves. He calls his particular genre of music “Americana” and mainly classifies his work as classic country and classic rock, and he clearly applauds Anthony’s success in making a name for himself.
Anthony posted a video to YouTube introducing himself to the world, where he said he began writing his own music in 2021, which he called a difficult time for him and many other people.
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“I wasted a lot of nights getting high and getting drunk, and I had gotten to a point in my life where even things I did care about didn’t mean anything to me anymore,” he said, sitting in his truck.
Anthony recounted that he received messages from strangers that some of his other songs like “Ain’t Gotta Dollar” had connected with them in a powerful way, and he’d been inspired to pursue music full-time even before blowing up in recent weeks. He also called himself “pretty dead center” politically and said he wanted to be a voice for disaffected citizens.
“There’s a lot of beautiful people in this world,” he said. “I met a lot of good people [working different jobs], and I meet people from all across the country, and the universal thing I see is that it’s like no matter how hard they push and how much effort they put in to whatever it is they’re doing, they just can’t quite get ahead… People are just sick and tired of being sick and tired, so I want to be a voice for those people.”
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