Oliver Anthony shot to stardom scorching the rich with his controversial working-class ballad “Rich Men North of Richmond.” Naturally, he wants to make sure his fans don’t have to be rich to watch him play.
The breakout country star canceled one of his shows this week to prove it, allegedly leaving more than $100,000 on the table. The move has led to a tense back-and-forth with the show’s venue, which taunted the Virginia native online.
Anthony had been booked to play Sept. 27 at Cotton Eyed Joe, a popular country music venue in Knoxville, Tenn. However, when the Virginia native on Monday caught wind of how much the tickets cost — $90 to $200 — he angrily pulled over to the side of the road with his “adrenaline pumping” and recorded a message to his fans, warning them not to buy the tickets.
“Don’t buy Cotton Eye Joe tickets for $99 a piece, and sure as hell don’t buy VIP passes for whatever b— price they’re on,” he said in the video posted to his Instagram as cars zoomed by. “That’s horse— … I didn’t agree to it, and I don’t want you to pay it.”
Within hours, the show had been canceled.
In a statement posted to Facebook announcing the cancellation, Anthony did not blame the venue. Instead, he chalked it up to “miscommunication.”
The “Ain’t Gotta Dollar” singer said that he had gotten a friend who works as a plumber to book the show for him. Anthony explained that he didn’t know about the ticket prices prior to the booking, but acknowledged it ultimately was “my fault for not being more directly involved with the venues who have reached out.”
“My plate has been full and I delegated the responsibility to someone else to help me book,” he added. “I am not pointing fingers at Cotton Eyed Joe, I don’t know where the miscommunication took place. I’m just upset seeing those prices.”
After the show was nixed, the Knoxville club delivered a since-deleted jab at Anthony, satirizing one of his hit song’s lyrics and writing on its Facebook page, “It’s a Damn Shame what the Worlds gotten to for the Customers of the World Famous Cotton Eyed Joe.” The venue said it had contracted Anthony to play one hour for $120,000. It said the ticket prices were intended to allow the 1,500-person club to “break even.”
“To our talent agency and promotor (sic) friends that follow us … be careful booking the North Man of Richmond,” Cotton Eyed Joe said to close its statement.
Anthony fired back on Tuesday, refuting the $120,000 figure, claiming that the most he had “ever made on a show is $35,000,” adding that he had done free shows in North Carolina and has a free benefit concert scheduled in Kentucky. He alleged that no contract had been signed before ticket prices went up. Anthony further shared that he had personally told Cotton Eyed Joe not to charge extra for a meet-and-greet and was surprised when he saw the $200 listing.
“I felt like they suckered us into playing there just so they could make extra money off of y’all,” he wrote in a Facebook post, while still taking “all the fault.”
The country star said he plans to play at other Knoxville venues that agreed to charge $25, as well as free meet-and-greets.
“We will still be having a good time in Knoxville soon,” Anthony said.
A former factory worker, Anthony found fame in 2022 after posting his song “Ain’t Gotta Dollar” on YouTube; it started trending online and on Spotify. He said he wrote the song to deal with anxiety, depression and substance use issues. Earlier this year, Anthony’s recording of “Rich Men North of Richmond” dropped, topping Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart and has more than 50 million views on YouTube.
The hit song has found a home across the political spectrum, heralded by some as a working-class anthem, and claimed by conservatives. It was the subject of a question to the eight Republican presidential candidates facing off at the first primary debate last month. However, some liberal and leftist pundits have decried the song’s apparent shaming of people who receive welfare, as well as possible references to conspiracy theories that serve as the foundation of Q’Anon groups.
Amid the battle for what the song is, Anthony was quick to disavow the way his song has been co-opted by conservatives and weaponized politically. He has described himself as down the center politically
And the Cotton Eyed Joe debacle isn’t the first time Anthony has claimed to reject money in the name of his values. In August, Anthony posted a lengthy Facebook post that he declined an offer of $8 million, much to the shock of the industry. The post didn’t provide more details about the source of the offer.
“People in the music industry give me blank stares when I brush off 8 million dollar offers. I don’t want 6 tour buses, 15 tractor trailers and a jet. I don’t want to play stadium shows, I don’t want to be in the spotlight. I wrote the music I wrote because I was suffering with mental health and depression,” he wrote. “These songs have connected with millions of people on such a deep level because they’re being sung by someone feeling the words in the very moment they were being sung. No editing, no agent, no bull—. Just some idiot and his guitar. The style of music that we should have never gotten away from in the first place.”
Times staff writer Emily St. Martin contributed to this report.