Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images
When the heartfelt song of Oliver Anthony’s “Rich Men North of Richmond” went viral, few could predict the number of people it would reach beyond the borders of his hometown, Farmville, Virginia. Mayor Brian Vincent said Prince Edward and Cumberland Counties of Virginia have been in the limelight, thanks to Anthony’s songs creating a lot of camaraderie within rural America. But, it’s not the first time the small town has been in the spotlight.
“It’s a small town. We look out for each other,” Vincent told Fox News. “So, yeah, I guess in a sense, that speaks to some of, perhaps, the lyrics and the idea or the spirit of not being overly dependent on somebody else to help you out, but having a community that has your back and people looking out for people.”
Farmville has been the birthplace of many significant cultural and political moments in the United States. Whether it was when General Robert E. Lee retreated during the tail-end of the Civil War, or the spirited student strike led by 16-year-old Barbara Rose Johns Powell that bled into the making of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, the town has witnessed chapters of anguish and triumph.
It hosted political events like the 2016 vice-presidential debate, and is the birth place of rapper Lady of Rage whose 1994 hit single “Afro Puffs” is remembered as making a significant cultural impact.
“It’s not new to us to be sort of in the limelight,” Vincent said. “When this thing started with Oliver Anthony, of course, you know, Farmville does what it does, which is just kind of embrace one of its own and do what it can to celebrate and elevate that person.”
He may shy away from record deals, insisting he’s “nothing special,” but Anthony’s lyrics spill tales of real struggles from substance abuse to welfare dependency, striking chords with a passionate group of listeners.
“There’s people who identify strongly with some of the lyrics and there’s people who don’t. But this isn’t the kind of town where you’re going to have people sort of tear at each other over that sort of thing. You know, we in small-town America, from my perspective, the people who I may see things differently from are still people I’m going to have to see every day in the grocery store. There are still people who my kids go to school with every day,” he said.
While his songs veer into political territory, Anthony, much like Mayor Vincent, avoids a specific political identity. His music encourages listeners to engage in reflective thought rather than succumbing to the ease of adopting echoed ideas.
“These days as people have gotten sort of, they’re more apt to just seize on somebody else’s identity as their own. And it’s almost as if we have too many distractions, too many inputs to actually take the time and reflect upon what our own individual values are. We just adopt values that get shouted at us or parroted, and we parrot them back,” Vincent said. “And I hope that one of the things that people see through his music and some of the conversations is that call to take that step back.”
Here, in a town where historic things have unfolded and anthems have risen, the community of people remains strong and in good spirits.
“Farmville, is it really, we talk about it being a sort of spiritual conductor or a little bit of a mystic nexus for goodness in the world,” Vincent added. “We’ve had a complicated history like most places in the country… But we have a community of people who look out for each other, who seek to support each other and endeavor to do good works to the benefit of all and the community.”
Listen to Oliver Anthony sing and play his songs in Farmville in the video below.