Oliver Anthony set foot in Nashville for the first time this weekend, making his Music City debut not at the Grand Ole Opry or the Ryman Auditorium, but at the annual birthday-party-slash-block-party thrown by Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. The honky-tonk marked its 63rd anniversary with its usual shut-down-the-street blowout and a lineup featuring Jamey Johnson, Randy Houser, Lee Brice, and X-rated country character Wheeler Walker Jr.
But it was Anthony who brought the most buzz, as well as his Bible. After joining Johnson and Houser onstage for a rendition of Johnson’s “In Color,” Anthony opened to Matthew 10:26-33 and read a passage about how there is “nothing concealed that will not be disclosed.” Then he and his guitarist, Joey Davis, sang an original titled “Cobwebs and Cocaine.”
Of course, the gathered crowd — a mix of locals, tourists, and sad San Diego Chargers fans who watched their team lose to the Tennessee Titans a few hours earlier — were clamoring for “Rich Men North of Richmond,” Anthony’s two-week Number One single that catapulted him into the public eye, onto Joe Rogan’s podcast, and, most recently, between presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and wife Cheryl Hines for a photo op. But this version of “Rich Men” was different: For the first time, it featured a full band. Houser’s band backed him, in fact; they learned the song prior to the performance and gave the previously bare-bones lament a shot of country swing.
Anthony acknowledged the crowd on multiple occasions and seemed awed by both the reception and the canyon of neon lights framing the bars of Lower Broadway in front of him. Beer was everywhere, and at one point during “Rich Men” a female fan started gyrating, while over Anthony’s shoulder, a billboard flashed ads for new albums by Brothers Osborne and Tyler Childers. It was an odd scene, but one that further proved the populist appeal of the Virginia songwriter — even if it still seems to befuddle Anthony himself.
“I’m the biggest sorry sack of shit in this town,” he said before reading his Bible verse, “so don’t think I’m coming off preaching to you.”