Sturgill Simpson was at the CMA Awards, but he didn't actually attend, per se. Instead, he went rogue outside Nashville's Bridgestone Arena, soliciting questions from fans and busking for donations to the ACLU via Facebook Live.
The artist was flanked by an open guitar case, his Grammy award for Best Country Album, and a couple signs that read, "I don't take requests, but I take questions about anything you want to talk about … because fascism sucks" and another sign that read, "Struggling country singer… Anything helps (all donations go to the ACLU). God Bless America."
Simpson took questions from Nashville journalist Adam Gold (also a Rolling Stone contributor), who was reading Facebook Live comments, and the singer also answered queries from passers-by. Over the course of 48 minutes, several fans stopped by to give him props, chat and take selfies. More than a dozen people had gathered by the end of his chat, but there were more than 79,000 who viewed the video online by the time it concluded, with a steady stream of more than 4000 watching live. "I'm just hanging out, I'm just down here being an asshole," he quipped when asked what he was doing.
And while his sign welcomed controversial topics, he appeared diplomatic when it came to the CMA Awards, stating that while he wasn't up for an award, it might've been because he didn't submit for any categories. "I wouldn't say I was snubbed," he said.
His feelings for Donald Trump, on the other hand, were unequivocal. "He's a fascist fucking pig and I'm not afraid to say that," he said. "Anybody who's still supporting that guy can't be anything in my mind but an ignorant fucking bigot. So there it is. Anybody that's surprised to hear me say that is going to unfollow me or stop listening to my record was probably not listening that close anyway."
He was similarly direct addressing other subjects at the center of political and cultural debate in 2017 America – including gun control, LGBTQ rights and the Black Lives Matter movement. "Nobody needs a machine gun, and that's comin' from a guy who owns quite a few guns," Sturgill said. "Gay people should have the right to be happy and live their life any way they want to and get married if they want to without fear of getting drug down the road behind a pickup truck. Black people are probably tired of getting shot in the streets and being enslaved by the industrial prison complex. Hegemony and fascism is alive and well in Nashville, Tennessee. Thank you very much."
Beyond politics, he discussed myriad subjects, including what he's been listening to lately (among them was ELO, La Roux, Run the Jewels and Angel Olsen. "I think she's badass," he said).
He was also asked if being discovered ruined him. "I probably will never let that happen…I'm a weird musician, my music's weird," he contended and added that he'd likely never make a record that goes mainstream. Later, he mentioned he'd like to cut a bluegrass record.
Simpson also discussed his five-album plan, remarking that the project has a cohesive theme. "Next one's gonna be about life and sin and we're literally going to hell," he revealed. The last one he said would focus on light.
In the wide-ranging conversation, questions came at random: he picked Kanye West over Drake when someone asked about whom he preferred, and he called "encores the new moshpit," adding that he had a low tolerance for bullshit. He talked about how fellow Grammy winner Merle Haggard's Grammy award was used as a doorstop. "That put a lot of things in perspective," he said, but added that the award meant a lot to him personally because it was voted on by peers. "That's not something I take lightly at all, and my grandfather lived long enough to see that," he said.
And despite Simpson using social media as a forum, he commented that the medium is "simultaneously the best and worst thing that happened to the human race."
Of course, fans were also awaiting him playing music and he did oblige, performing "Turtles All the Way Down" and "Water in a Well."
As his battery on his phone died out, he wrapped his charming, humorous and entertaining discussion. "Well, we made $13 for the ACLU tonight, so it was all worth it," he said.