The up-and-coming Grand Rapids country singer opens for Eric Paslay at The Intersection tonight, with a new album set for release this summer. (Story, podcast, video)
Country singer and Canadian native Steve Rivers, who’s spent time in Nashville as a songwriter, figures he’s boosted his fan base by at least 50 percent since getting married and moving to Grand Rapids a couple of years ago.
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“West Michigan fans and Michigan fans in general are just big country fans. They’re loyal, they come out to shows,” says Rivers. “Nashville is a great place to network, to songwrite and … do all the business side of things, but as far as growing a fan base and being an artist, it’s great to be on the road and get in front of the actual fans that want to be part of you and have that close experience with you.”
As an up-and-coming yet down-to-earth country artist, Rivers has grown his fan base with engaging performances and, especially, with songs that strike a chord with listeners.
“I think the core of songwriting is finding a really good idea that translates to people and that people can understand,” he says. “If you can do that well and keep it simple, then I think the song can have a little bit of success.”
INSPIRED BY SONGWRITERS FROM DWIGHT YOAKAM TO ERIC CHURCH
Take, for example, the song, “Bigger Than That,” which Rivers performed Wednesday during the Local Spins Live radio show on News Talk 1340 AM (WJRW). Although the track won’t officially be released until August with arrival of Rivers’ new “No Boundaries” album, the idea and “one lyric hook” for the song date back to 2010.
“Two years later, I was on a plane coming back from the Canadian Country Music Awards and going through all the demos I’d recorded,” Rivers recalls. “I heard that hook again and said, ‘We’ve got to go back and revisit this.’ ”
What resulted was an infectious, powerful country song that’s liable to “translate” well with fans. Watch a video of Rivers’ Local Spins Live performance below, and listen to the entire podcast of Wednesday’s show here.
Growing up in Campbellville, Ontario, amid what he calls “horse-racing country,” Rivers listened to country music, Southern rock and rootsy acts such as Creedence Clearwater Revival, Tom Petty and The Eagles, with songwriters like Dwight Yoakam and George Strait inspiring him. He’s since been “blown away” by the craftsmanship of Brandy Clark, Eric Church and Miranda Lambert.
COLLABORATING WITH OTHER SONGWRITERS LIKE ‘DATING’
After attending Fanshawe College in London, Ontario, majoring in music industry arts, Rivers started making regular trips to Nashville and “diving into the craft” of songwriting and the art of collaborating with other writers.
Several of his songs have been recorded by other artists, including Drew Gregory’s “Truck. Beer. Girl,” Dakota & Will’s “Saturday Night,” Colby Dee’s “Watered Down Love” and Alyssa Bagley’s “Kill You With Kindness.”
“It’s really cool to be in a writing room with somebody and we’ll write the song out and either do a work tape or a demo, and then you’ll you hear somebody else do a version of it,” Rivers says. “A lot of times it’s really surprising to me. You never thought it (song) would go to this place that’s really cool and see see what they’ve done with it.”
Rivers compares collaborating with other songwriters in Nashville to dating.
“You spend the first hour talking together. Sometimes you hit it off right off the bat,” he says, noting that he’s “knocked out a really good song” in 40 minutes. Other times, it takes much longer without results.
“I’ve had sessions where I’ve sat in a room with people for five hours and nothing happens,” he says. “When you write with people that have experience, you learn how to dive into the ideas a little more and talk about the direction where you want to take the song. I guess it’s like writing a book: Once you get the whole plot mapped out and where you want to take it, it’s just kind of moving the furniture around.”
PLAYING THE INTERSECTION TONIGHT WITH A BUSY SUMMER AHEAD
Rivers released the solo albums “Beginnings of a Work in Progress” in 2008 and “Temptations” in 2012. He recently finished up recording the songs for his new album in Canada, with hopes of releasing it in mid-August.
The singer and guitarist is just as passionate about performing those songs live, with a busy 2015 gigging schedule that includes festivals such as Mendon’s Cow Jam Music Festival and a Canada Day celebration in Burlington, Ontario.
Tonight (Thursday), he also continues his string of opening for major artists (Josh Thompson, Parmalee, Gregg Allman, Frankie Ballard, Charlie Worsham) when he performs at The Intersection on the same bill with Eric Paslay, Dean Alexander and Michigan’s own Brian Lorente & The Usual Suspects.
Joining Rivers on stage will be bandmates Mat Churchill, Eric Ellison, Adam Newton and Matthew Kok. The all-ages show starts at 7 p.m.; tickets are $15.93. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Details online at sectionlive.com.
Rivers also plays the Wild Bull Saloon in Kalamazoo on Saturday, and returns to downtown Grand Rapids to play the Back Forty Saloon on May 22-23.
“I love performing,” says Rivers, who’s noticed a younger demographic growing among country music audiences who appreciate staying in touch through social media and regular performances. “It’s really important to maintain that connection with fans.”
For Rivers, that’s the key to what he hopes will be a long career in the business.
“My hope is just to keep writing good songs that connect with people. If I can in 15 or 20 years say I’ve made a living doing what I’m doing and provide for my family doing it, then I think that’s the standard for success,” he says.
“And I’ve got fans to thank for that. They’re the ones that keep coming to the shows and keep us going.”
For more about Rivers, visit his website at steverivers.com.
VIDEO: STEVE RIVERS, “BIGGER THAN THAT”
Copyright 2015, Spins on Music LLC