Matt Stillwell had a hit with his single “Hey Dad” back in June of 2015. The song was written to honor his father who had recently passed at that time, but after it was released Stillwell came to realize that it had a reach much further than that.
“I had so many people react to that song, I came to understand that it was a song that honored all fathers. I continue to receive so may positive reactions to the song since its initial release that I decided to release it again, six years later, in time for Father’s Day.
“Ever since I have been touring, just me and a guitar, I had wanted to do another recording of it just really stripped down. I talked to my co-writer, Lynn Hutton, and he suggested that we do something with just an electric guitar, much like Eric Church has done on some of his recordings. I fell in love with that idea and this is the version we are releasing this week.”
Stillwell goes on to say, “I truly believe that ‘Hey Dad’ is a major reason I’m on this earth. It allows me to talk about my dad every day, hear other people tell me about their dads, and makes me want to be the best dad I can be.
“I knew honestly when we were writing the song that it was going to help other people because it was helping me to write it with Lynn. The last six years everywhere I go there are people who like (his other hits) ‘Shine’ and ‘Ignition,’ but nothing hit like when we released ‘Hey Dad.’ People have been telling me stories ever since it was first released, so it was a big desire of mine to do this electric version and put it out again.”
Stillwell says there are so many people who have shared their stories with him about their dads, but one that really let him know it was a song for family was when he met a grandmother, mom and dad and kids who came to meet him and tell him their story.
“I was playing in Houston, and while I was onstage I saw this family, probably eight of them – the grandmother, parents and kids. They enjoyed the show and they came over afterwards to meet me. They showed me a picture of how they sent their dad off, and it was the same way we did for my dad. They wanted to all come together and show me the photo. That happened pretty early on and that showed me the family aspect of the song.”
Stillwell continues, “It’s palpable, its tangible, you can touch it. It doesn’t discriminate by age, race, it’s all across the board, and if they didn’t have a relationship with their dad, this song reminds them of that and they feel obligated to tell me that too. I’ve become a sponge to soak up these stories and I’m very honored to have that.”
One night Stillwell was playing Ol Red in Tishomingo, Oklahoma, and when he started playing ‘Hey Dad’ he saw this young man stand up off of his bar stool. “His eyes met mine and I knew something was going on. After the show he came up to talk to me and I found out he was 22, from Louisiana and working in the oil fields in Oklahoma. He said four weeks ago his mom sent him the video of ‘Hey Dad’. While he was driving to Ol Red that night he was telling his friends about the video, and he had no idea I was the person performing at the club.
“There was another guy I met in Chicago a couple years ago. He saw the video in 2015, after his father passed away just a month after my dad. He just then was able to come and see me and tell me about his dad in person. Now he has a bar outside of Wrigley Field and he’s working on getting my Hometown House Party up there to play.
Stillwell’s Hometown House Party is another interesting thing in his life right now. It all came out of his working solo and performing acoustically back in 2019. When Covid-19 hit and the world was being turned upside down, Stillwell still had to provide for his wife and two daughters. He was already working out of the back of his pickup truck, doing acoustic shows all across the country in 2019. A representative from Anheuser Bush, for whom he had worked before, called him and asked if he would come to St. Louis and work off the back of one of their floats to go into neighborhoods and play.
Reactions were varied, Stillwell says. “When we first started these shows, there was this one apartment complex where people came out on their balconies to see us. It was before masks and most of us humans were really scared because we didn’t know what was going on. So the other part of that is that we were typically the only people they saw that weren’t on screen or phone, so there were some pretty emotional reactions to see a human coming out to perform for them. That was eye opening when I realized how important it is for us to be around each other. So I was like, I’m gonna double down, and go do this everywhere. I also had wife and kids to provide for and having their support was very important as well.”
At first Stillwell thought he could modify his own 9 x 14 trailer to use as a stage, but he soon learned that would not be possible. Then a guy at Phoenix Conversion in Knoxville, where Stillwell lives, showed him a photo of a trailer like what he wanted. It was called a porch concessions trailer, so the singer went to AAA Trailers in South Georgia to have one built for him. Then his father-in-law put the power on the outside so he could hook up sound and lights for him to be able to perform from it.
Another cool aspect of his shows is he carries merchandise and displays it while he is playing. Since he doesn’t have a merchandise guy, everything is on the honor system. “People come up and look and then then they make their purchases. I would say in most cases I come out better because people will be more apt to pay $30 instead of $25 for something. I will say there is that sentiment that, ‘hey this guy is really out here trying to do this and we want to help him.’ They tell me they love my trailer. It has its own personality; I haven’t named it yet.”
“The hardest thing about routing is getting there with everything,” he jokes as he chats with Sounds Like Nashville on his way to California to play a group of shows. “I book my anchor dates and make enough money to make that work, then I add dates around it. One thing about the show and trailer is I can book two or three shows after I have booked a cluster of shows. I booked two to play in California after I started my drive out there yesterday.”
Stillwell can make it all work because he knows people who let him park his trailer at their house which allows him to do more shows in an area. While he’s in California he’ll work there through July, then play on his way back, going up into the northwest to Washington and Oregon, then drop down into Jackson Hole, Wyoming, while booking shows from there to Tennessee.
The singer plays in many different situations. One of the shows in California is a family brewery that is on 40 acres with the brewery sitting in the middle of it. It is an ideal situation because Stillwell is self-contained, making him much more economical than for someone to bring in a production to put on a field party and bringing in a stage, lights and sound.
“I think ‘Hey Dad’ may not have started all the things going on with me today, but that song solidified it,” Stillwell says. “They all fit together and I think that’s the overreaching story, that ‘Hey Dad’ literally has touched and or solidified everything going on in my world right now, from relationships to business to personal. If I can help people to get past their fathers passing and help them when they need it in that situation, then I understand that is what the song is for me.”