Ahead of his performance at the 2020 ACM Awards, Riley Green opened up to PEOPLE about his journey

By Brianne Tracy
September 16, 2020 11:45 PM
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Riley Green is reflecting on just how far he's come.

While speaking to Jeremy Parsons for PeopleTV's Red Carpet Live: 55th Academy of Country Music Awards preshow, the rising country star — who learned he'd won the ACM award for new male artist of the year during a Zoom meeting with show host Keith Urban in August — said he's a "pretty good testament that anybody can" make their dreams happen.

"I mean, two and a half years ago, I was building houses for a living," Green said. "I never would have thought I'd get nominated for this — and to win, it's unbelievable ... I don't know if it's sunk in yet."

Green, 31, said the first call he made after learning about his ACM win was to his mom, who knew about the exciting news before he did.

"Somehow everybody was in on it except for me," he said. "Keith Urban busts in my Zoom, right? He tells me that I won the award, and I immediately called my mom. She was like, 'Oh yeah, I've known about that.'"

Riley Green
Jason Davis/Getty

As for the advice he'd give his 13-year-old self now, he said it would be to "write songs about what you know and don't worry about if it's going to be a hit."

"Keep writing and playing any show you can," he said. "I didn't turn any gigs down, especially now. If anybody wants me to play anywhere, I'll play. We're getting pretty tired of sitting at the house."

Check out PEOPLE's full ACM Awards coverage to get the latest news on one of country music's biggest nights.

Though touring might remain on hold for the foreseeable future due to the coronavirus pandemic, Green has been busy preparing up for his ACM Awards performance. During the show on Wednesday, he'll be singing his 2019 song "I Wish Grandpas Never Died" live from Nashville's Ryman Auditorium.

"I wrote the song as a tribute to my two granddaddies," he said. "It was a personal song to me, but I didn't think it would ever be a song on the radio. It wasn't even going on my first album."

"So for it to do what it has done with fans and become a single on the radio — it's a platinum song — that speaks for how much people have really grabbed onto [it[ and related to it," he added. "I think that's my best foot forward to go on a platform like the ACM Awards and be able to perform that song for people who maybe haven't heard of me yet."

RELATED VIDEO: Keith Urban on Hosting ACM Awards: I'm Just Glad the Show Is Happening!

In addition to his music, Green has been taking fans on a virtual journey through his hometown in Jacksonville, Alabama, with his "Golden Saw Series" on Youtube. Proceeds from the series benefit musicians out of work due to the pandemic through Green's #GetThatBandABeer and ACM Lifting Lives COVID-19 Response Fund.

Airing bi-weekly, the four-part series features a number of different guests performing alongside Green.

"So the 'Golden Saw' was my great grandparents' house that me and my granddaddy Buford turned into a music hall," Green said. "It's like 200 old people out every week playing country music and me. That's how I learned to play. I watched their fingers and how they made chords."

"It's been going on for a long time but a lot of the folks who used to go out there have passed on, and I just wanted to shine a new light on it and [make it] a place where some 13-year-old kid [could] get his start playing and singing," he continued. "It's a really nostalgic place for me but also, I'm bringing some of my favorite country music artists and country songwriters down and letting them tell the story about how they wrote songs. It's a neat place, and it's got a lot of guys with a lot of great talent coming out there to play. So I'm excited about people seeing it."

The 2020 ACM Awards are airing live from Nashville at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.