Cali Country: Tyler Rich, Devin Dawson and More on The Growing West Coast Movement

Illustration by Matt Herring
From left: Young, Rich, Pardi, and Dawson.

In May, Tyler Rich landed his first hit on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart with debut single “The Difference,” making him the fourth California country singer -- along with Brett Young, Jon Pardi and Devin Dawson, the lattermost of which co-wrote Rich’s song -- to appear on the tally in 2018. It’s not the first time a Cali wave has hit country radio: Genre greats Merle Haggard, Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam all hailed from the Golden State. “People tend to forget that other than the big cities, California is just as country as Georgia,” says Dawson. “Country is a lifestyle; it’s not just a genre. Everything has its moment, and it’s just another time for us to spread awareness about Cali country.”

DEVIN DAWSON

Hometown: Orangevale, Sacramento County
Age: 29
Recent hit: “Asking for a Friend”
My style: “When I was in middle and high school, there was a huge culture of heavy metal. Instead of going to college, I toured in a metal band, and that greatly influenced my sound and the way I push boundaries -- whether it’s lyrically or with chords. Growing up as a metalhead has completely informed my live shows -- I like to have energy be dynamic -- and the way I look at creating and writing. I have my own voice in this genre.”

TYLER RICH

Hometown: Yuba City, Sutter County
Age: 32
Recent hit: “The Difference”
My style: “I grew up 90 minutes from the Bay Area, and Bay Area hip-hop is massive. Rap was a huge part of my childhood, as well as country and ’90s alternative rock. [You can hear] the hip-hop influence in my vocal melodies or my phrasing, similar to the phrasing of Dr. Dre, but with my voice and style you can tell I’m a fan of Keith Urban and Garth Brooks. It collectively turns into the artist I am today.”

JON PARDI

Hometown: Dixon, Solano County
Age: 33
Recent hit: “She Ain’t in It”
My style: “I was so influenced by what I heard on the radio, from Merle to Dwight, and George Strait. But going to college in Chico, Calif., I learned more about bluegrass, and had a bluegrass and country band. I used to think, ‘How do you also get the attention of college kids who maybe have only listened to pop or rap?’ I knew I needed to write songs that were upbeat enough to interest and entertain them, too.”

BRETT YOUNG

Hometown: Huntington Beach, Orange County
Age: 37
Recent hit: “Mercy”
My style: “I grew up listening to country music but was the minority. Now, [acts like] Florida Georgia Line and Sam Hunt have given California listeners and artists more room to find their own sweet spot within the genre. For me, growing up in California was very laid-back, and I’ve noticed this all over my songwriting. Though I’ve found a home in Nashville, there will always be a West Coast flavor to my music.”

This article originally appeared in the June 2 issue of Billboard.