For music lovers in the Tri-State, the rise of musician Tyler Childers is not so amazing.
Before his career took off on an international level, Childers showcased his music for a decade or more in Huntington, around the region and in his eastern Kentucky home area, sometimes for very small audiences.
Now, the rest of the planet has caught up to Childers and his down-to-earth original music. One look at his tour page reveals already sold-out shows in Ireland, England, Scotland, Amsterdam and Denmark. In America, Childers’ “Good Look’n Tour” with Sturgill Simpson resumes in February, and it is selling out in places ranging from Asheville, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C., to Detroit.
This week, however, Childers will come back to his native Kentucky to host a three-night run at the Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville, Kentucky. Happening Friday and Saturday, Dec. 27-28, and on New Year’s Eve on Dec. 31, these concerts reflect Childers’ appreciation of the folks who lifted him up long before his appearances on national TV and his recent nomination for a 2020 Grammy Award.
Tickets for Childers’ three-night run in Pikeville range from $45 to $55 and are still available. More information can be found at tylerchildersmuic.com/tour.
Childers grew up in Lawrence County, Kentucky, where he had a high school teacher named David Prince, whom many now know as the alt country performer Laid Back Country Picker.
“Tyler was a student of mine, so I met Tyler when he was a freshman in my government class,” Prince said. “He went to Lawrence County High School until he moved to Johnson County after the ninth grade and finished out in Paintsville. I grew up with his parents, so I know his mom and dad as well.”
Prince became aware of Childers’ talents soon after meeting him in class.
“So, I had this little kid who was writing all of these weird songs and stuff and he would bring them to me and say, ‘Hey, please read this. What do you think about this?’” said Prince. “He was already writing songs then like he was 30 years old, even though he was just a freshman So, I knew Tyler when he was 13 years old, and he didn’t forget me. When he began to be successful, he would put me on concert bills with him and let me play a little bit with him. That song he recorded called ‘Bottles and Bibles’ was me and him. I took him to a studio and turned him loose, and away he went. Watching that dude take off has been super cool.”
Once out of high school, Childers began to pursue his music career full time, albeit still having to work at various day jobs to make a living. Huntington was a prime location for Childers as he played at different venues for years, honing his musical vision. After meeting his future wife, Senora May, a talented singer and songwriter in her own right, the couple moved to a remote southeastern section of the Mountain State.
“Tyler and I moved to West Virginia for a bit, living in Greenbrier County in Renick, which is close to Pocahontas County,” said May. “When we lived there, we would take weekend trips where we would drive as far as we could during the weekend and then come back. We would travel over into Virginia and other places, and it was so beautiful and different than where I am from. Now, we live near Daniel Boone National Forest (in Kentucky) and it is beautiful as well. As the crow flies, we are not very far from the Red River Gorge, though it is a 30-minute drive by road. I don’t consider it ‘the mountains’ where I am from. It is just the Appalachian foothills here, but everyone here says they ‘live up on a mountain.’ But we keep our life private.”
Childers saw some lean times before he experienced success, although he did begin to appear on W.B. Walker’s acclaimed “Outlaw Country” podcast as early as 2014. The Morgantown-based singer, songwriter and Childers’ friend William Matheny remembers those pre-fame days, which were not that long ago.
“One time, we had a gig in Cincinnati at this place called The Crow’s Nest, which was a club the size of a pool table,” said Matheny. “It was tiny. The lineup was Tyler and his band, local Huntington group Ona, and me and my band. And there were only two people in there that were not with any of the bands, and then they left. It really wasn’t all that long ago as it happened in 2015 or so.”
About the same time, country artists Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson struck a chord with music listeners tired of the “Nashville pop” being played on country radio. Stapleton is from the aforementioned Paintsville, Kentucky, and Simpson is from Jackson, Kentucky.
Then Sturgill offered to co-produce Childers’ 2017 album “Purgatory,” and that was when Childers’ rocket was lit. That recording climbed to the Top 20 of the country charts. In 2018, Childers won the Emerging Artist of the Year honor at the Americana Music Awards.
Childers’ new album “Country Squire” has solidified his musical journey, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard country music chart this past August. Still, the artist is fiercely determined to stay true to his musical vision.
When The Herald-Dispatch interviewed Childers in 2017, he was still pitching that “Purgatory” album to various record labels and was about to perform at the V Club with William Matheny and the Strange Constellations and The Good Ol’ Boys and a Girl. Tickets for the show were just $7.
At that time, Childers had just played the Mountain Stage radio show for the first time after the program’s host Larry Groce heard him perform at the outdoor chili cook-off held during Charleston’s FestivALL event. Childers had also just come off a tour of the Southwest where, as he described it then, “We met a lot of really cool folks, including some people that were more than happy to put us up and help us out.”
These days, Childers is selling out shows around the world.
“When we first started, we were playing on Friday and Saturday nights and that was it,” Childers said in 2017. “It was just an excuse to get out and get free beer. Now, you have to look at it as: while I still like to have fun, at the same time this is what I’m doing for a living. The music business is like anything else; it is one day at a time, and you have to get out there and do it because nobody is going to sing it for you. Hopefully, the more you play, the bigger the venues and crowds that you can get to come out.”