The Profile: Riley Green’s Old-School Fan Connections Set Him Apart

Riley Green; Photo by Connor Dwyer
Riley Green; Photo by Connor Dwyer
Riley Green; Photo by Connor Dwyer
Country music's hottest new star opens up about his ever-growing fan base, life on the road, his debut album and much more in this Country Now exclusive.

Back before he signed a record deal and moved to Nashville, Riley Green had a sizable homegrown touring fanbase that originated in his hometown, Jacksonville, Ala., and radiated throughout the southeast. Even in those early days, his fans were passionate — so passionate, in fact, that today those early listeners often send him messages remarking on how much his career has grown.

“Oh yeah. And even more so than that, probably, is people coming up [at shows] and requesting songs that I recorded six or seven years ago,” Green tells Country Now. “I put out a lot of music back before I signed a record deal. And the production quality was nowhere near [what it is now], but people still request those songs at shows. There are a lot of older fans that have been there from the beginning.”

Riley Green; Photo by Sam Crabtree
Riley Green; Photo by Sam Crabtree

The singer’s fans haven’t forgotten those older songs, and neither has he. Green says he wouldn’t be opposed to the idea of one day revisiting some of those first fan favorites in the studio. “I can definitely picture me going back and doing some acoustic or throwback album down the road. Some of those songs that gave me my first little bit of traction,” he explains, adding that putting out a project like that would also be a fun tip of the hat to the diehard fans that have loved him since day one.

As a listener, it’s uniquely satisfying to be a fan of Riley Green. From his road-dog, pavement-pounding days playing small clubs to today, when he shares stages with the likes of Brad Paisley and Jon Pardi, few artists have such a sweet success story. Fans who’ve stuck around have bragging rights, the ability to say they knew him when. Still, no matter how high his star rises, Green keeps coming back to his original grassroots fanbase.

In Green’s position — with his first no. 1 song newly under his belt, and a debut album on the way — many artists would throw all of their weight behind expanding their fanbase, joining the tours of as many big names as possible. While the singer will indeed be providing opening support for some big-ticket artists, he’s also planning his own headlining Get That Man a Beer Tour for the fall of 2019. Along with his buddy and fellow rising artist Travis Denning, Green will revisit the markets that won him his first fans.

Riley Green; Photo by Sam Crabtree
Riley Green; Photo by Sam Crabtree

“I just wanted to re-track and hit those markets again, because you never know what next year will bring,” Green explains. This fall’s tour will see him playing clubs and mid-size venues, potentially for the last time. Following the explosive growth the singer saw in 2019, after all, there’s no telling what’s next.

During that fall tour, the singer will drop his major-label full-length debut, Different ‘Round Here, a project that will include his No. 1 hit, “There Was This Girl,” as well as new single “In Love By Now.” Many big-name artists have recently turned away from the album format, indicating that in a market with a short attention span, they think it’s smarter to focus on singles. For Green, however, putting out a full-length project is important. It’s a mile marker, for both himself and his fans, to show how far he’s come.

“For me, it’s important to put out a whole album because it’s going to be a complete project of mine. And there are still people in the world that look at a full project like that,” he points out. “There are people that grew up on CDs and records and 8-tracks. So there’s something to that. And something cool to me, personally, to say I put out a full album.”

Riley Green; Photo by Sam Crabtree
Riley Green; Photo by Sam Crabtree

Compared to the modern country fans, who look for singles and instant grat tracks, Green’s fanbase might be a little old-fashioned. They still pore over liner notes and sit down to listen to whole albums at a time. They still follow their favorite artists from show to show, club to arena to amphitheater, calling out requests for songs from years ago.

That face-to-face fan connection works so well for Green because it’s squarely inside his comfort zone. While it may have been slow going, the legwork of making each fan, one at a time, suited his down-home tastes. In that respect, it’s been a bit of a challenge for the singer to adapt to the fast pace of stardom.

“The most difficult thing has definitely been the travel, the hours,” he admits. “I mean, I’ve played 100 to 110 shows a year for the last six years, but I didn’t travel every day. I had maybe been on a plane once or twice! Now it’s just a constant thing, and I’m a little bit of a homebody. I built a house in Alabama last year, and I probably stayed there about three weeks in the last year.”

Even when life on the road gets challenging, Green goes on to say, there’s always some new, exciting dream or milestone to keep him going. “There’s constantly things to be excited about. Like new music coming out, or a song going No. 1, or getting into a tour with Brad Paisley. Stuff like that continues to come along, and my career keeps building.”

Riley Green; Photo by Sam Crabtree
Riley Green; Photo by Sam Crabtree

Green’s career may be growing at a breakneck pace, but his relationship with his fans hasn’t changed all that much. One thing his songs all have in common is their ability to draw listeners in, connecting to each fan on a personal level. “I will say this: One thing that helped me a lot was that I didn’t move to Nashville,” Green responds, when asked what he thinks it is about his songwriting that hooks people so effortlessly.

“I certainly don’t say that in a negative [way], because a lot of great things have happened to me since I did move [to Nashville],” he clarifies. “But for several years, I wrote strictly based on what went over well at shows. I played shows every week, and I’d go out and play a song at a show and watch what the reaction was. Whether they liked this line, or that line — what songs fans really gravitated towards. And that was my whole model with songwriting.”

The accolades that came with his fame were a pleasant surprise to Green. The radio and critical success is great, he says, but it was never the goal. “I’d never written a song to get on the radio,” he adds. “I wrote the songs hoping that fans would like ‘em.”

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