It’s not enough to just have one or two independent-minded artists making waves that reach the mainstream if we want to save country music. It’s going to take a whole roar of insurgent artists creating their own inertia, free from the restrictive environment on Music Row, devoid of dependence on radio or other mainstream media constructs, and turning the country music world upside down. Luckily, we’re starting to see signs of that impending tsunami forming from the broad-based nature of the artists finding major traction and success.
Sturgill Simpson rose from the obscurity of Kentucky as a traditional country singer and songwriter, all the way to being considered right beside Beyonce, Drake, Adele, and Justin Bieber for Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards. It can’t be emphasized enough how incredible this feat was. Even if Sturgill isn’t straight-down-the-middle country anymore like he was on his first couple of records, he left a blueprint for those coming behind him, and broke down barriers and opened doors in his wake.
Nobody has benefited more from the momentum of Sturgill Simpson than fellow Kentucky songwriter turned burgeoning star Tyler Childers. Sturgill co-produced his latest record Purgatory, and put him in touch with the right people to get his career on track. But now Tyler is enjoying a momentum all his own, and if anything, is even further ahead than Sturgill was at this point in his career. If our expectations hadn’t been so stretched by what we witnessed with Sturgill Simpson—and similarly with Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, Blackberry Smoke, Cody Jinks, Aaron Watson and others—we’d probably be getting floored by what we’re seeing from Tyler Childers at the moment. Even still it’s worth marveling over, including the eerie parallels with how Sturgill Simpson made his ascent.
The Sold Out Shows:
One of the first signs that Sturgill’s rise was more than just a groundswell in the underground affecting the club circuit was how tour dates were getting continuously blown out do to incredible demand coat to coast. Shows were selling out immediately, stops were being moved to bigger venues to accommodate more ticket sales, additional dates were being added before and after the initially-announced shows due to the higher demand, and seats on the secondary market were showing up for $300 or more.
This is exactly what we’re seeing for Tyler Childers.
In February of 2015, Saving Country Music reported about Sturgill Simpson’s theater tour at the time, “After going on a sold out club tour in the latter half of 2014, Sturgill’s next stint on the road sees him graduating to bigger clubs and many theaters to house the growing demand. But even with more capacity, many dates are selling out almost immediately, while other shows are being moved to bigger venues.”
Compare this with the news of the current tour with Tyler Childers: “As new tour dates continue to be added, many are selling out immediately, while other dates in other venues and markets are being added to meet demand, and some stops upgraded to bigger places to accommodate fans.”
Tyler Childer is also playing many of the same major festivals in many of the same slots as Sturgill did early on—fests like Stagecoach and Bonnaroo.
Just like Sturgill Simpson, the team of Tyler Childers consists of the independent music distributor Thirty Tigers—which allows its artists unlimited creative control of their music, booking agent Jonathan Levine of the Paradigm Talent Agency who also works with Margo Price and Colter Wall, and publicist Asha Goodman of Sacks & Company. This was the exact team that put the boost behind Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, and helped orchestrate his meteoric rise. Tyler’s manager is Ian Thorton as opposed to Sturgill’s manager Marc Dottore during his heyday, but the same basic personnel has been working to get Tyler Childers his traction, and succeeding.
The Sales and Streaming Numbers:
Tyler Childers is killing it with sales and streaming numbers, blowing out expectations just like Sturgill Simpson did early on, even better than where Sturgill Simpson was at this point in his career. Tyler’s album Purgatory has sold almost 40,000 copies—something we don’t even see from some 2nd tier mainstream artists in the streaming era. But Tyler’s streaming numbers are stellar as well. Just on Spotify, his song “Feathered Indians” has over 8.3 million streams, and “Whitehouse Road” has a combined 8 million.
Also, in 2014 Sturgill Simpson was nominated and won the Americana Music Awards Emerging Artist of the Year—the same award Tyler Childers is up for at the 2018 Americana Music Awards.
But this is just the beginning. Tyler Childers still hasn’t seen any big national exposure on late night talk shows or Saturday Night Live yet. As impressive as these numbers and accolades are, when he releases his next album, this is when the whole thing could act like a powder keg, just like it did with Sturgill’s second major record.
Beyond all the hoopla, numbers, sold out shows, and hyperventilating media buzz by Saving Country Music and others, Tyler Childers just has that “it” factor that it takes to make an artist not just successful, but soar to heights previously thought to be unattainable for independent artists. The truth is there’s always been independent artists out there offering healthier alternatives to the mainstream, and worthy of competing. But what we’re seeing in this era is these artists actually receiving the support they deserve. They may still not win all of the major awards, but they’re able to pack houses, support families, and continue to make the music they want, keeping the ears of independent and traditional country fans happy, and giving hope for the future of country music.