Colter Wall telling a story in between songs at PIP Fest in Oslo, Norway.

How meeting my musical hero made me completely forget that I’m a journalist

By Billy Ray Malone

I felt sick about missing Colter Wall’s performance at Bergenfest in Bergen, Norway. I thought I would never have another chance to see him in concert. And it was my fault. I had a press pass for Bergenfest, but didn’t request one for the day Wall performed. I felt I wasn’t a true fan because I didn’t take the time to carefully review the line-up prior to the event.

Colter Wall performs on the main stage at PiP Fest in Oslo, Norway.
Colter Wall performs on the main stage at PiP Fest in Oslo, Norway. Photo by Billy Ray Malone

I first became a fan of Colter Wall in late 2016 when I got out of the army and started my career as a college student at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Georiga. For several months I only knew Wall by name and voice. I was blown away when I first saw a picture of him and realized he is a year younger than me.

When I saw a picture of him playing guitar he did not at all resemble the person I had envisioned from his deep and gravelly voice. Listening to the song “Sleeping on the Blacktop,” my guess was that Wall was an aging outlaw country singer well into his 60s. The idea never crossed my mind that he is a 22-year-old performing in the style of legends like Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson.

Discovering Wall gave me hope for the future of outlaw country and folk music because he doesn’t play pop-country and sell out to the radio stations. The music of artists like Luke Bryan or Sam Hunt doesn’t appeal to me because I find it lacks the best qualities country music was founded on. My optimism increased as I noticed Wall gaining popularity among country music fans. Until I found WalI, I thought that the art of outlaw country music, just like classic rock, was lost on my generation.

As it turns out, I found Wall yet again.

I had a press pass for another festival called PiPFest — or Picnic in the Park in Oslo, Norway, just a few days after Bergenfest. A coworker asked me to trade assignments to cover the Friday performances and I quickly agreed without realizing what that meant.

When I opened the phone app to see the Friday festival schedule, the first name I read off was Colter Wall. I couldn’t believe it. Assuming I had looked at the wrong schedule I checked a second time. It turned out that I was going to watch my favorite outlaw country singer and song writer perform right in front of me!

I began to feel more excited than usual about attending a festival. Attending festivals has always been fun, but I had never seen a musician that I adored as much as Wall perform. It made my press pass feel like the golden ticket in a Wonka Bar.

Colter Wall takes a sip of bourban as he performs at PIP Fest in Oslo, Norway.
Colter Wall takes a sip of bourbon as he performs at PiP Fest in Oslo, Norway. Photo by Billy Ray Malone

What I find most appealing about Wall is the way he writes his music. It makes me feel like I am living in the era of Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and the other great outlaw country artists that were before my time. His voice takes me to a time in history that I missed.

The Canadian singer/ song writer debuted his first album “Imaginary Appalachia” in 2015. The EP, produced by Jason Plumb, has songs that are being streamed millions of times on Spotify. The song “Sleeping on the Blacktop” is at over 6 million streams and “Thirteen Silver Dollars” is just shy of 3 million streams. The seven-song EP launched Wall’s successful career as a musician.

EP (extended play) is loosely defined on music forums as four to six songs on a single cd or vinyl album, while an album can have eight to 12 songs or more recorded on it. Artists like Wall or Tyler Childers use EPs to get their music listened to on streaming platforms like Spotify and SoundCloud.

After Wall’s amazing performance was over, I wandered toward the PiP Fest entrance. I thought my eyes were fooling me when I spotted Colter Wall’s jean jacket and cowboy hat in line to get a beer. I felt like having a panic attack over the thought of walking up and introducing myself. I planned out the full script of what I would say, not even considering the fact that I was a music journalist there to cover the event. I turned into a total fanboy in that moment.

It took several attempts to muster up the courage to approach Wall. I walked toward him and quietly said, “Colter?” He looked over at me and walked in my direction. I held out my visibly shaking hand to greet him and forgot everything I planned to say. After stumbling on my words and thanking him for everything his music has done for me, he asked me what my name was. How could I forget to start off by introducing myself?

The woman standing with Colter explained to him that I had been taking pictures during his performance. I immediately began to explain I had credentials to take photos at the event, worried he might be angry at me for taking his picture. But he thanked me several times for listening, and shook my hands three times.

The next time we cross paths, I will be sure to ask him the journalistic questions, but he made me completely forget my profession when I walked up to him. Wall is a humble and kind man. Though he will forever be my preferred artist, at that moment it felt like he was a normal person enjoying the festival and helping me enjoy it like never before.