Riley Green’s Wild Ride: After Stellar U.S. Tour, Country Star Readies To Go Global

Keith Urban and Vince Gill Return to Nashville's Bridgestone Arena for Urban's All for the Hall Concert Benefiting the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
AIN’T HIS LAST RODEO: Riley Green performs onstage for All for the Hall concert benefiting the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena December 5, 2023 . Photo by John Shearer / Getty Images / Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

There’s no slowing down for Riley Green.

The 2019 Academy of Country Music Best New Male Artist winner found just a bit of downtime to talk to Pollstar in the days after his performance at Nashville’s Ascend Amphitheater during CMA Fest.

He was doing a bit of recording in Music City — even though his latest EP, Way Out Here, which includes a ’90s-country-tinged cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City,” just hit shelves in late April. He was preparing to head to New York City for an appearance during the annual “All-American Summer Concert Series” on “Fox & Friends.” He played a post-game concert at the Philadelphia Phillies’ Citizens Bank Park June 22. And then it’s back on the road for the usual country music summer schedule of fairs and festivals. That comes after the Live Nation-produced “Ain’t My Last Rodeo Tour,” a lengthy run of small arenas and larger amphitheaters that was riddled with sell outs. 

Riley Green, repped by Nashville’s The Neal Agency, is a road warrior.

“It’s been like that last few years,” he says. “I keep saying I’m gonna dial it back a little bit and try to get in that 60 to 70 shows a year range and I just can’t seem to make myself do it while things are going well and people are showing up.”

And show up they do: 10,708 showed up at Walmart AMP in Rogers, Arkansas, April 27, grossing $360,535, according to Pollstar Boxoffice reports. At Simpsonville, South Carolina’s CCNB Amphitheatre at Heritage Park, 10,756 tickets grossed $428,923. In Alpharetta, Georgia — 90 minutes from where Green grew up in Jacksonville, Alabama — he grossed $519,731 on 12,067 tickets at the Ameris Bank Amphitheatre April 19. All told, Green grossed $9,649,781 on 186,723 tickets in the first half of 2024, according to Pollstar’s Mid-Year charts.

The success is no shock to his agent, Austin Neal, co-head and founder of The Neal Agency.

“Riley has built his touring career by not skipping steps, it has been old school from acoustic bar sets, to club dates, and now arenas and amphitheaters. He has worked extremely hard and won fans every time he plays live,” he says. 

There were a lot of memorable shows on this run, Green says.

“Me being from Alabama and having toured in the Southeast for so many years, Tuscaloosa, of course was special. I started playing there opening for Alan Jackson years ago and I’d headlined it before so doing that one again was great,” he says, also lauding the crowds in Georgia and South Carolina.

But there’s one stop that was really special.

“All the Southeast was great but we also got to do Red Rocks. And we sold out Red Rocks my first time ever even being in that venue, so that was awesome and I think that one probably sticks out the most,” he says. 

That 9,336-ticket sellout grossed $493,730.

The 35-year-old Green’s music is clearly influenced by the neo-traditionalists that caused a country boom in the 1990s. That movement was a reaction to the pop-influenced countrypolitan sound that had dominated Nashville from the late ’70s through the ’80s. Now, after a decade or more of country chart-toppers borrowing sonically from hip-hop and electronic music, there is a bit of a neo-traditionalist revival — in addition to Green, artists like Midland and Jon Pardi, among others, fit under the neo-neo-trad umbrella. Notably, Green’s 2019 breakout song “I Wish Grandpas Never Died” included the lyric “I wish country music still got played on country radio,” a jab that caused enough consternation that the radio edit softened the line to “I wish George Jones still got played on country radio.”

Green makes a habit of not just paying homage to those who’ve influenced him but bringing them out on the road to share the stage.

“A couple of years ago, I had Sammy Kershaw come out and then John Michael Montgomery — man, I forgot how many hits he had — and Travis Tritt did a show with me and I just love tipping the hat towards that ’90s country thing,” he says.

On this tour, he had Tracy Lawrence, who had seven Number Ones during the ’90s, open up. Green sees it as a win-win. Sure, there are artistic reasons to show respect to your influences, but it’s a shrewd business move too.

“From a personal standpoint, it’s a great show, I love it and I think it’s awesome to have him out but also from a business standpoint, I started thinking about how you usually get some up-and-coming guy that’s got maybe one hit or two hits [to open],” he says. “But these [established] guys can play 45 minutes or an hour of hits and they’re selling a different ticket. There’s a lot of parents or even grandparents that’ll say ‘Yeah I’ll take you to see Riley Green if Tracy Lawrence’s playing,’ so I thought it was a great play and it really turned out awesome and his stuff went over really well with my fans.”

Lawrence had a great time, too.

“The tour with Riley was nothing short of incredible,” he says. “Every night of the packed tour the fans brought the energy and sang all the words from start to finish As a friend and fan I’m proud of what Riley is doing out there, he’s very true to country music while fully captivating a passionate growing audience. And equally important, Riley and his team out there were first class all the way.”

Joining Green and Lawrence on tour was 24-year-old Ella Langley. Green is clearly thoughtful about choosing his support and he said this particular grouping hit a home run.

Riley Green, Tracy Lawrence & Ella Langley In Concert Alpharetta, GA
Singer Riley Green performs onstage during his “Ain’t My Last Rodeo” tour at Ameris Bank Amphitheatre on April 19, 2024 in Alpharetta, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images)

“There’s some tours you go out and you know it’s a money grab and maybe it’s not an artist that really aligns well with you, and then there’s some that you go out with that are completely different but you think maybe you can get some of those fans anyway,” he says. “And then there’s what Ella and Tracy was [and] it aligned really well.”

Shortly after the tour wrapped, Langley announced a fall club tour of her own which she’ll tackle after a stint opening for HARDY.

“She’s an Alabama girl so I was pulling for her already. …  it was just an awesome lineup and she’s having a moment and I think she’ll continue to have a moment, so it really worked out great for me to be able to get her,” Green says.

Green knows how valuable opening spots can be, especially for an up-and-comer and particularly in country music where fans have long perceived their favorite singer putting a new artist in the “one of three” hole on the bill as an imprimatur. Green knows the feeling, having scored coveted opening spots for Luke Combs and Morgan Wallen. He’s paying that forward to artists like Langley while paying back those like Lawrence who inspired him. 

The pride of place Green has for Alabama — the feeling that makes visits to Tuscaloosa special and that drive him to introduce his fans to up-and-coming fellow Yellowhammer Staters — is no put-on. His relationship with his hometown of Jacksonville could be pulled from the script of a TV movie.

A three-sport athlete in high school, he walked on the football team at Jacksonville State and made the team and as a junior, started a couple of games for the Gamecocks, completing 55 passes on 100 attempts for 612 yards.

“It was one of those dreams of mine as a kid, to play quarterback for your hometown college where I grew up going to games,” he said. “I loved the idea of it, but I didn’t love the idea of going to class, that was my problem. My mom would always give me a hard time because I could get up at 4 in the morning and go duck hunt but couldn’t get up for a 9:15 class.”

During the spring game one year, he got hit hard by a defensive end and was sent cartwheeling. Afterward, his grandfather told him he might consider playing the guitar a little more.

“A lot of relationships I still have to this day come from [football] but I think more than anything I gained a little bit of accountability as an 18-year-old kid,” he says. “When I quit playing ball, I played in clubs and wrote songs and had no visions of any type of this kind of success I never thought I’d have songs on the radio I just wrote songs I thought fans would like and might win a few people over at whatever little hole in the ball hole in the wall bar I was playing at and it was a really accidental success to be where I am now.”

Pride of place can morph into provincialism and limit an artist’s broader appeal. Green has no intention of letting that happen. Though he’s played Canada — and will play north of the border again on this summer’s festival circuit — he’d had designs to take the show truly global before the pandemic made international touring impossible and the lingering effects continued to make it difficult. But he’s going for it now: he’ll open for Morgan Wallen at BST Hyde Park in London July 4 and he’s headed to Australia in October and November for stops in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.

“Those Australian crowds are so hot,” he says. “I’m excited about it, because those are things that I put off a little bit because I wanted to really go hit all the markets in the U.S. that I could and keep building something that was working before I spread myself too thin. I think now it’s time to get over there and it looks like our streaming numbers are really, really good over there.” 

The fair and festival circuit carries Green through the fall when he heads Down Under and then, finally, a much-deserved break, which, predictably, he’ll spend working: writing, recording … maybe a little duck hunting (such is his affection for the activity, his fans call him “Duckman”). 

And then, of course, it’ll be back on the road. Maybe that’ll be the year Green tones it down to 60 or 70 dates.

But, as he says, if “things are going well and people are showing up” (and the sheds are selling out), why ratchet back?