I walked into the Ozarks Amphitheater last week not knowing what to expect, but knowing it’d be remembered. Who doesn’t dream of seeing Willie Nelson, live in concert?
What I never would have expected is the star opening performance by Aaron Raitiere. I’d describe his set as a mix of true three-chords-and-the-truth country and to simply put it, lyrical comedy. Throughout his set he was cracking jokes and talking with the crowd between songs, leaving an impression of his down-to-earth personality on all who attended.
Catching my eye first off was his merchandise tent before the show… he had a single t-shirt available for purchase alongside customized matchbooks and records. The shirt featured a fish smoking a doobie, which he later told me he drew himself. A Danville, KY native, artist, songwriter, singer and now Grammy award winner, Raitiere has lived quite the life and I was lucky enough to hear about it firsthand.
Full of subtle wit and gentle charm, he spoke of these experiences with genuine excitement while wearing an easy-going grin.
“How long have I been doing music or how long has music been doing me?” He smiled. “I've been standing in the middle of the road for 20 years down there in Nashville and I've finally been hit by a car... Standing there long enough, you’re gonna get hit by a car. And lately I’m like, ‘Alright, I just got hit by a bus and then it backed up and hit me again.’”
The bus he’s speaking of may be landing his lyrics on the albums of some of the hottest names in country music and even several recorded by Lady Gaga, a few of which he penned with Willie’s son–Lukas Nelson.
"Lukas and I wrote some songs together on the movie "A Star is Born," We wrote "Is That Alright?”, and then there's one other one called “Look What I Found,” he explained.
“I also wrote one on that soundtrack called “I’ll Never Love Again,” and won a Grammy for that in 2020. So that was cool… but those are all Lady Gaga songs. So you know, I'm not out singing them because I can't physically... it's impossible," he chuckled.
According to Raitiere, the coolest honor he’s had in the music business is knowing and working with Dave Cobb.
The award-winning producer was the one who called, asking Raitiere to come to Los Angeles to write for a movie for a week. While he had never been to LA or written a song for a movie, he took the chance. “A Star Is Born,” isn’t the only place he’s seen success with his writing.
“Dave’s one of the coolest people in music. I think just the fact that I get to write for him has been a big part of my success. It wasn’t anything else… it was Dave that got me rolling,” he said. “He was my first little push.”
Raitiere has been writing music for two decades and said it was one of his buddies who introduced him to Miranda Lambert nearly a decade ago, with whom he wrote a handful of songs she ended up cutting on her record, “The Weight of these Wings.” This includes “For the Birds,” “Tall,” “Tomboy,” and “Well Rested.”
However, Raitiere said he can’t really say he’s been resting much lately. He released his first solo album titled “Single Wide Dreamer,” on May 6, the same date as his Grand Ole Opry debut alongside the Oak Ridge Boys and Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead.
“I’ve been a songwriter my whole life and I have a lot of Oak Ridge Boys songs… they were actually my background group during my Opry debut and Bob Weir was my lead guitarist… so I’m at a weird place in my life where Bob will call at two in the morning and be like hey, man, I had this idea for a song and you're sitting there like... man, of all the people this guy could call... yeah, it’s surreal. I’m not getting a lot of sleep these days.”
In addition to his own album and recent pickup in tour dates, Raitiere has also had the song “Tall Guys,” cut by Maren Morris, “Sunrise Tells The Story,” by Midland and a new song on Lambert’s latest record titled “Country Money.” He also penned a song on an upcoming album of Jake Owen’s, which has yet to be released.
“You take any gig you can get and luck does help,” he said. “Eventually you get lucky enough to open for someone like Willie, you know… you gotta go while the goin’ is there.”
Though this is a long list of accolades for any artist, Raitiere remains humble, spending time after his set chatting with fans, embracing them in hugs and thanking them for their support. Of course, pedaling his hand-drawn merch with long-time pal, Jon Decious.
“I have a lot of co-writers but he’s my favorite co-writer. I’ve spent my whole life writing for other people and I have a really hard time writing songs for myself,” Raitiere explained. “I can do it, but the guy I call to help finish is Jon. And the songs he writes generally apply to my world because we’ve got a similar world. I think he’s the best writer in town right now actually. He’s bad to the bone.”
Several of the songs written by the two can be found on “Single Wide Dreamer,” in which the title track was written around the time Raitiere’s home burned down and he moved in with Decious, in a single wide trailer. The two have been friends for 13 years now and together penned the title track, “Worst I Ever Had,” and “Dear Darlin’.”
“This album really started when his house burned down and he moved in with me just outside of Nashville,” Decious added. “We just started writing a bunch of songs and that eventually turned into this record, which was produced by Miranda Lambert and Anderson East.”
Despite the tragedy of losing his house to a fire, the title track they wrote paints a pretty picture to a happy tune regardless. Judging by what he told me, I’d say his positive outlook has paid off.
“I used to sell t-shirts for Anderson East and then he drove me around and now produced my first record,” Raitiere said. “It’s funny because it’s really just climbing the ladder with your friends.”
Raitiere spent his time in Missouri at an off-grid cabin with no wifi, cell service and stayed unplugged before amping up for the show.
“This whole experience has been great. The Ozarks are beautiful… I have not ever been to Missouri, but it was awesome and the perfect time because the weather is insane. In Tennessee, you’re pulling your arms off your legs right about now,” he laughed. “But I’m very thankful. I'm thankful to be opening for Willie and just thankful to be here.”
Connect with Aaron Raitiere by searching Facebook, Instagram or visiting aaronraitiere.com.
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