Levi Riggs Talks Local Upbringing and the Music Industry
“Success is just a stack of little victories you’ve achieved over time,” says Levi Riggs, a country musician from Hendricks County.
Riggs lived in Danville for the first six years of his life before his father’s job took his family to Minnesota. A couple years later the family relocated to Texas, which he calls both a culture shock and weather shock. While living in the Longhorn State, Riggs developed an affinity for country music. While he was in the fifth grade, the family packed up once more, this time to return to Danville for good.
Back in Indiana, classmates took notice of Riggs’ musical talent and encouraged him to pursue singing. However, he was more interested in sports.
“I was all about football, basketball and track,” Riggs says.
During his sophomore year at Danville Community High School, Riggs broke his ankle in two places during football season. At that point his choir director, Erin Slavens, now a teacher with Avon schools, encouraged him to step out of his comfort zone.
“We bumped heads at first,” Riggs says. “I remember she made me stand up and sing.”
Slavens spotted raw talent and was eager to mold it. She told Riggs not to take his talent for granted, and that while he was sidelined from sports, he might as well focus on music. He reluctantly agreed and ultimately landed lead roles in three of the high school’s musicals.
“I remember one audition when Levi came up on stage and sang ‘Danny Boy’,” Slavens says. “It was mesmerizing. His tone was so clear. It was very musical and it was perfectly in tune. He later joked about how he had just decided, five minutes before his audition, on that song.”
Riggs still loved sports but couldn’t deny his appreciation for music, which is why he acquired the nickname, “The Singing Quarterback.”
Riggs gravitated to iconic stars like Johnny Cash, Elvis and Roy Orbison, appreciating their blend of country and rock-and-roll music. He also enjoyed the harmonies of groups Alabama and the Eagles. After graduating from Danville Community High School in 2003, Riggs studied agriculture at Purdue University. While there, he joined the Purdue glee club, which performed every weekend.
“The primary focus of the club is to be ambassadors for the school,” says Riggs, who went from milking cows to belting out tunes at glee club gigs.
Though it was a huge commitment – the club did 100 shows per year – he fell in love with performing.
During his junior year at Purdue, Riggs saw “Walk the Line”, a film about Johnny Cash’s life.
“Everything I envisioned in my head, I saw on the screen,” Riggs says.
The following year Riggs scheduled his classes in the morning so he could spend afternoons recording songs at a studio in Lafayette. He then began pitching songs in Nashville, Tennessee, to promoter Jerry Duncan, who worked with George Strait and Martina McBride. His first song, “My Best Friend’s a Girl”, did well on Spotify in 2012. He released a full-length album, “She’s Everything”, in 2016.
Riggs will never forget the first time he heard his voice playing on the radio airwaves. He was driving home from work in Lafayette when, all of a sudden, his song started playing.
“I had all my windows down and the song blaring,” Riggs says. “That was the coolest moment ever.”
Riggs admits that he’s always nervous about how listeners will perceive a song. He knows that some will be fans and some will not.
“You have to be vulnerable and just put it out there,” he says.
Riggs graduated from Purdue in 2007. Since then, he has split his time between Nashville and Danville, devoting part of his time to music and part to farming.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Riggs was packing venues with upwards of 1,500 fans. In the spring his touring schedule came to a grinding halt. As of now he has no definitive timeline as to when touring will resume, but he’s set to perform at the 2020 Kentucky Derby, which is scheduled for September 5.
“Music in itself is a very hard business, but I’ve been fortunate to be able to pursue music and agriculture careers hand in hand,” says Riggs, noting that many of his friends in agriculture attend his concerts.
Levi Riggs, 35, has always enjoyed performing in his hometown with his band, all of whom he considers his extended family.
“We’ve loved and supported one another through all the highs and lows,” Riggs says. “We have a good time, and it’s been fun to see our families grow. We all have kids about the same age.”
Riggs’ family consists of his wife Brittany, their children, Stella (8), Maizie (5) and Leland (2), and a baby girl expected this year.
Riggs, who has written songs for Brett James and Carrie Underwood, pens his own music. This spring he released “Cash Black”, a song he wrote after befriending a man who used to design Johnny Cash’s dark wardrobe.
Five years ago Riggs wrote a novelty song called “Tailgate Time”, which 13 NFL teams and a few college teams asked him to customize.
“People go to concerts to have fun, relax and get away,” Riggs says. “They laugh, cry and dance. Music takes you places mentally. It also has an ability to pull people together, even across languages, continents and countries. It’s like an instant glue.”
Riggs loves performing in Hendricks County because he knows he’ll see people who have always encouraged and believed in him, including former teachers and coaches.
“My rock-solid foundation is here in this town and this community,” Riggs says.
During Riggs’ senior year, Slavens went on maternity leave and the choir prepared a song for her daughter Olivia.
“Levi led the singing of it as they brought the two of us on stage,” Slavens says. “He always had a star quality.”
In 2013, Levi Riggs’ relationship with Slavens came full circle, when Slavens sat in the front row at Purdue’s Elliott Hall of Music for one of his shows.
“I feel blessed to have been a part of Levi’s journey,” Slavens says. “He’s worked very hard to get to where he is today. I’m very proud of him.”
- Favorite song: Elvis’ “How Great Thou Art”
- Favorite contemporary artists: Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Zach Williams, Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors.
- Favorite part of touring: Building relationships and friendships, and hearing fans tell me that my music impacted them.
- Favorite piece of advice: Erin Slavens used to tell me, “You better use your talents. They can be taken away.”