Dustin Lynch had a career-making hit with "Small Town Boy" in 2017, a platinum-selling single that sat atop the country charts for a month. Another chart-topping single, "Seein' Red," was released in advance of his third album, "Current Mood."
"Current Mood" hit No. 2 on the Billboard Country Album chart when it was released last September. It's still No. 23 on the chart nine months after its release, and he's playing to more people than ever.
"It's been a great year, no doubt about it," Lynch said in a recent phone interview. "It comes from working hard and setting goals, meeting goals. But, I think, it's also putting out the right music at the right time."
Now, after landing the main support slots on tours headlined by Brad Paisley, Luke Bryan, Keith Urban and Florida Georgia Line, Lynch is spending his summer playing festivals and headlining dates. He's in town today to headline the Riverbend Festival with a 9:30 p.m. show on the Coke Stage.
The songs on "Current Mood" have been almost universally seen as the best Lynch has recorded, connecting with listeners more directly and personally than his previous efforts.
"That comes with my growth as a songwriter, my growth even as a person, living a little bit," said Lynch, who has seven co-writing credits on "Current Mood."
"Life has changed, relationships have happened and I've gotten more comfortable as an artist. One thing I finally figured out is if I've felt it, if I've lived it, there's no reason to be afraid to talk about it; everybody else has too.
"What I've learned is when I've let somebody in too much, too close, that's where the magic happens," Lynch said. "That's opened me up as a songwriter."
That growth as a songwriter has been just one aspect of Lynch's overall improvement, as he's gone from promising upstart to consistent hitmaker, a run that began when he released his debut single, "Cowboys and Angels," in January 2012.
Eight months later, Lynch's self-titled debut album hit the top of the country charts, and he was off, following the now-standard path for country artists of playing club and fair shows, releasing singles and albums, landing support slots on major tours, releasing more music, playing bigger headlining shows and getting direct support slots.
Following that path can bring an artist closer to country's top tier. But Lynch said, if that was automatic, everyone would do it.
Lynch said he and other aspirants have to find a way to connect with the audiences, first on the radio — which comes from the songs themselves — then in performance.
What makes that happen?
"It's being comfortable and confident," Lynch said. "I learned a lot about that from watching Luke Bryan. I watched that guy every night have fun, where it's cool and exciting and not too choreographed. If you feel like dancing with somebody, do it; don't worry about what you look like. That's what it's about, being comfortable and making that connection, so that every concert is like a first date."
So how do you keep that going show after show?
"It's about confidence, repetition and dialing in the pacing," Lynch said.
That sounds like something an athlete would say about preparing for a game — not surprising, given that Lynch played golf at Nashville's Lipscomb College before beginning his musical career.
"There's no doubt about that," Lynch said, "There's a lot of similarity. You see a lot of college athletes get into the industry at this level. Jake Owen's a golfer. Chase Rice played football, Lee Brice played football, Sam Hunt, too. Colt Ford is a big-time golfer."
So who'd win if there was a country golf tournament?
"Right now, I'd probably put my money on Colt Ford," Lynch said. "I've retired. I got burned out in college. What little free time I've got now, I don't want to be worrying about which way a golf ball goes. I've taken up fishing."
While he's on the road this summer, Lynch is also at work on new songs, which are likely to turn up on an album either late this year or early in 2019, but may hit the airwaves well before any album is released. His new single, "Good Girl," is climbing the charts now. That song is not on "Current Mood," but whether it will be on his next album is an open question.
"We've already started the creative process, the writing process," Lynch said of his next album. "The landscape of music changes so quickly that I like the thought of releasing music when you know you've got something special."
A couple more hits and Lynch is likely to be moving on up in the touring world. In fact, it appears it's just a matter of time before he's headlining arena shows and finding new artists to support him.
"The industry as a whole is really expecting us to get there," Lynch said. "In my opinion, we're getting close. We have one giant song, 'Small Town Boy.'
"Then it's continuing to pursue excellence as a performer and having people talking about what a great time they had at your show," he said. "You start doing that, and eventually there's not an arena that can hold you. I think it's in the cards for us, going to that level, I really do."
L. Kent Wolgamott is a writer for Last Word Features.