In 2017, Dustin Lynch had a career-making hit with “Small Town Boy,” a platinum-selling single that sat atop Billboard’s Country Airplay chart for a month. The song and another chart-topping single, “Seein’ Red,” were released in advance of Lynch’s third album, Current Mood.
The album hit No. 2 on the Billboard Country Album chart when it was released last September and stayed on the charts for a year after its release. Lynch’s latest single, the non-album “Good Girl,” has been steadily climbing the airplay chart since its release in May (it recently hit its highest mark yet, ranking No. 11) and he has been playing to more people than ever on the road.
What’s more, this past September, Lynch was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry.
“It’s been a great year, no doubt about it,” Lynch says. “It comes from working hard and setting goals, meeting goals. But I think it’s also (about) putting out the right music at the right time.”
After landing the main support slots on tours headlined by Brad Paisley, Luke Bryan, Keith Urban and Florida Georgia Line, Lynch spent the summer playing festivals and doing headlining dates. He is now on a co-headlining run with Cole Swindell.
The “co-headlining” status means Lynch will have more time on stage than the 45-minute slots he does as a support act. While getting the chance to introduce himself to fans of a bigger act was a great opportunity for Lynch, the shorter sets somewhat limited the amount of songs he could fit into those shows.
"We’ve had enough hits that the majority of the time we’re up there is playing hits,” he says of the support slots. “We (could) introduce a couple new songs, but you’ve got to play the hits.”
On the current tour dates (including this week’s stop in Northern Kentucky), Lynch should be able to incorporate at least a couple of album tracks from Current Mood and his two previous studio albums into his show. The songs on the album have been almost universally seen as the best Lynch has recorded, connecting with listeners more directly and personally than his previous efforts.
“That comes with my growth as a songwriter, my growth even as a person, living a little bit,” says Lynch, who has seven co-writing credits on Current Mood. “Life has changed, relationships have happened and I’ve gotten more comfortable as an artist. One thing I finally figured out is, if I’ve felt it, if I’ve lived it, there’s no reason to be afraid to talk about it — everybody else has, too.
"What I’ve learned is when I’ve let somebody in too much, too close, that’s where the magic happens. That (realization) opened me up as a songwriter.”
Lynch’s progression as a songwriter has been just one aspect of his overall professional growth spurt, as he’s gone from promising upstart to consistent hitmaker. It’s a run that began when he released his debut single, “Cowboys and Angels,” in early 2012.
Later in 2012, Lynch’s self-titled debut album hit the top of the Country album chart and he was off, following a now-standard path for Country artists — playing club and fair shows, releasing singles and albums, landing support slots on major tours, releasing more music, getting main support slots and playing bigger headlining shows.
Following that path can bring an artist closer to the Country’s top tier. But Lynch says if it was that automatic, everyone would do it. He and other aspirants have learned to find a way to connect with audiences, first on the radio (via the songs themselves), then in person through performance.
What makes that happen?
“It’s being comfortable and confident,” Lynch says. “I learned a lot about that from watching Luke Bryan (on tour). I watched that guy every night have fun, where it’s cool and exciting and not too choreographed. If you feel like dancing with somebody, do it — don’t worry about what you look like. That’s what it’s about, being comfortable and making that connection so that every concert is like a first date.”
So how does he keep that going show after show?
“It’s about confidence, repetition and dialing in the pacing,” Lynch says.
That sounds like something an athlete would say about preparing for a game, which is not surprising given that Lynch played golf at Nashville’s Lipscomb University before beginning his musical career.
“There’s no doubt about that,” Lynch says of the athletic comparison. “There’s a lot of similarity. You see a lot of college athletes get into the industry at this level. Jake Owen’s a golfer. Chase Rice played football; Lee Brice played football; Sam Hunt, too. Colt Ford is a big-time golfer.”
So who’d win if there was a Country music golf tournament?
“Right now, I’d probably put my money on Colt Ford,” Lynch says. “I’ve retired. I got burned out in college. What little free time I’ve got now, I don’t want to be worrying about which way a golf ball goes. I’ve taken up fishing.”
While he’s on the road, Lynch is also at work on new songs, which are likely to turn up on his next album. But like the non-LP “Good Girl,” new music may hit the airwaves well before any album is released.
“We’ve already started the creative process, the writing process,” Lynch says of his next album project. “(But) the landscape of music changes so quickly that I like the thought of releasing music when you know you’ve got something special. You go, ‘Hey world, what do you think of this?’ and toss the golden nuggets out when you get them.”
A couple more hits and Lynch is likely to be moving on up in the touring world. It appears it’s just a matter of time before he’s headlining arena shows on his own and finding new artists to support him.
“The industry as a whole is really expecting us to get there,” Lynch says of his prospects. “In my opinion, we’re getting close. We have one giant song, ‘Small Town Boy.’ Then it’s continuing to pursue excellence as a performer and having people talking about what a great time they had at your show. You start doing that and, eventually, there’s not an arena that can hold you. I think it’s in the cards for us, going to that level, I really do.”
Dustin Lynch and Cole Swindell play Dec. 8 at BB&T Arena in Highland Heights, Ky. Tickets/more info: thebbtarena.com.