Oliver Anthony is ‘singing for all of us’: Home town salutes ‘Rich Men North of Richmond’
FARMVILLE, Va. – The men south of Richmond were on a high when viral phenomenon Oliver Anthony made a surprise appearance at a street festival here Saturday night.
Anthony’s “Rich Men North of Richmond” has rocketed to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 songs chart, propelling a once-unknown songwriter from south-central Virginia onto the national stage.
But he’s staying close to his roots.
He opened his Rock the Block festival appearance by reading a Bible verse to the crowd of about 350 locals then said, “Despite what you’ve been reading on the Internet, this song still rings true,” and launched into his first song, “Ain’t Got a Dollar.”
His life has changed since he first sang its lyric “I ain’t gotta dollar, But I don’t need a dime,” with his estimated earnings now as high as $40,000 a day.
Then the crowd became his chorus when he sang his viral hit hit “Rich Men North of Richmond,” and when he invited anyone who wanted an autograph or photo after his four-tune set on the “Rock the Block” festival stage on Fourth Street, squeezed between the Railroad Club and First Baptist Church, he was mobbed.
It was his second Farmville gig in four days. On Wednesday evening he took to the stage at the North Street Press Club to perform for another 500 people, including a family from California.
Just as he was singing, “Rich Men North of Richmond” formed the opening question of the Republican presidential debate, held in Milwaukee, WI.
“We fixed him up to mic his guitar when he showed up back then and he was so good that the whole place perked up and I wanted him to stay for more but he just left,” Knapp, 52, a Marine veteran and local musician, told The Post.
“He was such a humble guy. Then two weeks ago when his song blew up I messaged my friend at the club and said, ‘See, I told you that dude could sing!’”
On Wednesday Anthony returned with his signature Gretsch G9220 Bobtail Round Neck Resonator. Knapp had someone snap a photo of them together.
Veteran guitarist T.J. Peterson of Farmville said Anthony gave him the thrill of a lifetime when he let Peterson and his band get onstage after Anthony’s performance Wednesday night.
“That is one genuine, God-fearing man and I have total respect for him,” Peterson, 38, told The Post. “First I was watching him sing and then he sat down and watched me sing. And this is a guy who had people all over the country coming to see him.
“One guy came from California. I’ve met a lot of people in the music industry but never anyone like him. I don’t even think what he’s singing is political. He’s singing for all of us.”
Knapp said Anthony’s Wednesday night show taking place during the Republican debate was not lost on the locals.
“It was very ironic that he was here doing a free show for his hometown people — people he knows, families he didn’t know who came from all over — while the rich men north of Richmond were up there battling it out on the podium about things that don’t even concern the average person in the room.”
Anthony is the stage name of Chris Lunsford, who grew up about an hour away, the only child of Connie and Steve Lunsford.
According to his Facebook posts, he dropped out of high school and worked in factories in the Marion County, NC area until 2013 when he suffered an injury on the job and moved back to Virginia.
His stage name was inspired by his grandfather, Anthony Oliver Ingle, who died in 2019 aged 86. Ingle was himself named for his grandfather, a Confederate veteran whom he never met, and Anthony has said that his grandfather’s upbringing in impoverished Appalachian Virginia during the Depression has inspired him. On Saturday he posted a picture of a framed poem he had inherited from his grandfather.
In a detailed biography Anthony wrote Aug. 17 on his Facebook page, he says he was a salesman for ten years with substance abuse and mental health issues who now lives on 90 acres he bought in 2019 “in a 27′ camper with a tarp on the roof that I got off of craigslist for $750.”
His Facebook page lists Farmville as his current location but very few people in town seem to know him nor does he have any family ties here.
His last known address was next door to his parents’ home, 65 miles to the east in North Dinwiddie.
Two sources in the local music industry said he has a pregnant wife, Tiffany, who is due in November, and two other children. So far his videos just show Anthony with his two dogs.
Fans of Anthony are die-hard but the reaction to his song has been divided. Anthony was initially embraced as a voice for conservative, rural America, with his words taken up as a rebuke of President Biden’s administration and the Democrats — prompting a backlash from liberals, and claims Anthony was a fake, molded and propelled to the top by shadowy right-wing interests.
On Friday he somewhat abruptly turned somewhat on his conservative base. Anthony posted a message on YouTube taking both Republicans and Democrats to task for attempting to use “Rich Men North of Richmond” to their own ends.
“I hate to see that song being weaponized,” he said. “I see the right trying to characterize me as one of their own and I see the left trying to discredit me, I guess in retaliation. That s–t has got to stop.”
And later in the day he posted on Facebook that his rejection of conservative politicians didn’t make him a Biden supporter saying: “Though Biden’s most certainly a problem, the lyrics aren’t exclusively knocking Biden, it’s bigger and broader than that.”
Though Anthony has referenced himself being from Appalachia, Farmville is not Appalachian, and its streets are dotted with refurbished old red brick warehouses, originally belonging to wealthy tobacco dealers, and to trendy restaurants that would not look out of place in Brooklyn.
It is a college town, home to both Longwood University and Hampden-Sydney College. The area itself is divided, politically and geographically.
Prince Edward County voted 51.9 to 46.3 for Joe Biden in 2020, while Cumberland County — Farmville is the seat of both — voted for Trump 56.8 to 41.9.
And Farmville’s mayor, Brian Vincent, won by running without party affiliation.
Across the Appomattox River, on the grittier edge of town, the owner and patrons at Big Daddy’s Saloon & Tap House mostly gave a big thumbs up to Anthony — but some wondered why he never shows up on this side of town.
Big Daddy owner Jeff Legursky said he felt Anthony is going after the Biden Administration which he feels has wrecked the country, and was glad.
“They don’t care about America,” Legursky said. “They stole the election from Trump, I really believe that. People are tired of having a boot on their throat. He’s singing about real America, people like me are tired of the government telling us what we can or cannot do.”
“You gotta wonder a little bit about him,” said Matt Newhouse, 40, as he vaped outside of Big Daddy’s. “From what I can tell the boy owns a bit of property around here.
“He also seems to have come up really fast, like maybe he had help. But I don’t know. Got nothing against the guy for sure and he’s saying what a lot of people think.”
Newhouse echoed some who point to online conspiracy theories alleging a coordinated campaign by some conservative accounts on Twitter to amplify his presence.
“None of this necessarily adds up for a guy who lives off the land and recorded a video and is number one; he’s got a professional camera crew following him around,” a performer who asked not to be named for professional reasons told The Post.
As they discussed Anthony, Newhouse and other customers at Big Daddy’s ordered “Irish car bombs” (shots of Jameson and Baileys dropped into a half glass of Guinness), agreeing that the singer, a recovering alcoholic, was not likely to join them drinking anytime soon.
“I’ve seen this in my own household at times,” he said. “Where you’ll have a whole family under the same roof and instead of them spending time with each other and caring about each other, every one of them is sitting there just looking at their own piece of technology.”
Anthony also set up his own website, using a small-town business in nearby Blackstone to make the merchandise; Mountain Creek Signs and Graphics owner Anthony DeMarco proudly posted a selfie on its Facebook page. Other people have posted dollars Anthony has signed for them with his lyric: “Ain’t s–t.”
His manager, Draven Riffe, told The Post that Anthony is prepping to do a podcast with “one of his heroes” in a few days.
Christopher Page, 40, a local musician and DJ as well as a councilman in a nearby town, said he had been vaguely aware of Anthony as a local musician.
“He’s got a great voice but it’s what he’s singing about that’s hitting a nerve,” Page told The Post outside Big Daddy’s.
“Twenty five cents used to buy something. A hundred bucks used to buy something. Now a hundred bucks is worth less than 25 cents.
“Government has grown so much over the last few years and the control they are having over our lives — it’s hurting the working man and woman but it’s hurting everyone which is why everyone is relating to Anthony’s songs.”
Additional reporting by Samuel Corum