Justin Moore Celebrates “Small Town USA,” His First No. 1, With a Live Performance

Arkansas Native Also Honors His Co-Writers, Jeremy Stover and Brian Maher

Justin Moore celebrated his first No. 1 single in a big way Monday (Oct. 26) by performing a mini-concert for a throng of music business insiders at the BMI building in Nashville.

The occasion was to honor “Small Town USA,” the debut hit Moore co-wrote with his producer, Jeremy Stover, and Brian Maher. “Small Town” is the only song by a new country artist to top the Billboard chart this year.

Jody Williams, BMI’s vice president of writer-publisher relations, opened the proceedings by emphasizing Moore’s life-long affinity for country music. “At 3,” said Williams, “he was running around the house singing Dwight Yoakam’s ’I’m a Honky-Tonk Man.’

Backed by parents who took on extra jobs to support his ambition, Moore moved to Nashville from his native Arkansas in 2002 and worked a variety of odd jobs, including selling cuts of meat from the back of his car.

Simultaneously, Moore was learning the craft of songwriting and refining his chops as a performer. By the end of this year, he will have played more than 200 dates, Williams reported. Next year, he will tour with Brad Paisley.

Five years ago, Williams continued, Stover introduced Moore to Scott Borchetta, who, at the time, was about a year away from forming his own label, Big Machine Records. Borchetta was enthusiastic about Moore’s music but wasn’t able to sign him to a record deal until after he established a second label, Valory Records, in late 2007.

Borchetta, whose Big Machine label launched and still boasts Taylor Swift, praised Moore for his loyalty and patience.

“I know everyone here agrees that this won’t be the last No. 1 [for Moore] we’ll celebrate in this room,” said Borchetta. “But it is the first one. So let’s party like rock stars.”

Wade Jessen, director of operations for Billboard’s Nashville office, saluted Moore for the traditional theme and sound of “Small Town USA,” noting, “It doesn’t happen every day that a great country record tops the country charts.”

Maher said he met Moore through Stover. “It’s great to have a No. 1,” he said, “but it’s even better to have a No. 1 with two best friends.”

“Justin is real,” Stover asserted. “It’s so exciting to have someone like your brother you get to make music with.”

“I’m a little better singing than talking,” Moore told the crowd. Nonetheless, he was able to chatter on for several minutes, obviously delighted with the number of supporters — including both his parents — who had come out to honor him.

“It’s good to stand in a room with people who want for me more than I want for myself,” he observed. “There are a whole lot of people in this town that may deserve this [recognition] more than I do, but there’s no one who appreciates it more.”

Moore thanked his manager, Peter Hartung, for hearing something in his music when Moore was just 17 years old and driving all the way from Nashville to Little Rock to meet with and encourage him.

He also singled out for praise George Briner, Valory’s director of national promotion. Noting that Dwight Yoakam was his “idol,” Moore said he and Briner were driving to an appointment one day when Briner, who had worked with Yoakam at Warner Bros. Records, dialed a number and handed him the phone. Yoakam was on the other end.

“The first thing I say to Dwight Yoakam,” Moore lamented, “was, ’Man, I’m about to crap my britches.'”

The singer also announced that he and his wife are expecting their first child, a daughter, in February.

“I’ve played ’Small Town USA’ for six years,” Moore said proudly, as he beckoned his five-piece band to the stage, “but I’ll never play it again that it’s not a No. 1 record.”

With a sound that jarred BMI’s stately reception hall, Moore opened with “Back That Thing Up” and cannonaded through “How I Got to Be This Way,” “Like There’s No Tomorrow,” “Backwoods,” “Hank It” and “Small Town USA.”

Then he ended his set — and closed the party — with the taunting “I Could Kick Your Ass.” And, for a brief moment, he looked like he might just do that.

View photos from Justin Moore’s No. 1 party.
Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.