By Max Graham
Chilkat Valley News, Haines
Originally published in the Chilkat Valley News.
Next time you’re on a flight with Alaska Seaplanes, your pilot might be a country music star.
Sam Riggs, a singer and songwriter with more than 30 million streams on Spotify and 30,000 subscribers, is also a pilot for the regional air carrier.
When Riggs, 34, is not on tour, he often flies the company’s Juneau-Haines-Skagway route.
Riggs, his wife, Rachel, and their 21-month-old son, Rock, moved to Juneau from Texas in January.
“Life was super hectic,” Riggs said. He was on tour much of the time. And Rachel, a helicopter pilot in the Gulf of Mexico, worked two weeks on, two weeks off, he said.
They decided last Thanksgiving to make a big life change – to find a place to settle down so they could spend more time together as a family. But they didn’t want to be far from adventure. So they chose Alaska.
“First and foremost, we hired him because he is a great pilot,” said Alaska Seaplanes spokesperson Andy Kline. “On top of that, he’s an incredibly talented musician.”
Riggs toured full time for 13 or 14 years. He worked professionally in and out of Nashville as a songwriter. His 2016 album, “Breathless,” reached No. 12 on Billboard’s U.S. country music chart.
On his website, Riggs describes his music as “rock-infused sound with a chip on its sonic shoulder.”
With travel for concerts and shows came flying. The adventure-hungry musician got his pilot’s license about seven years ago. “Flying instantly became a huge part of my life,” he said.
It was an easy way to get around. “It was also sort of a gateway drug,” Riggs said. “I quickly discovered all the backcountry airstrips in Utah.”
Since then Riggs has divided his time between flying into the wilderness and rocking out. He said having an inReach satellite communication device has made balancing his two passions easier.
“My management and agent are constantly trying to track me down on some mountain or in some canyon,” Riggs said. “I remember coming out of a canyon and checking an inReach message saying, ‘You missed another radio interview.’”
In 2016, Riggs founded an outdoor company called Air & Opportunity Adventure Co., which offers canyoneering and camping trips in the Utah backcountry and sells clothing. A nonprofit branch of the company provides grants to people “seeking healing experiences through outdoor adventure,” according to its website.
Riggs said he always envisioned transitioning from full-time music to flying. “It’s just as exciting and just as rewarding.”
But the move to Alaska and the job with Seaplanes haven’t put a damper on Riggs’ music career. He has concerts scheduled in Utah, Colorado and Idaho. “Seaplanes have been awesome about planning and working with me,” he said.
Riggs is going on fewer tours now than he once did, but he said he feels more inspired than ever.
“For the first time in a while, now I don’t have to write – I get to write whenever I want,” he said. “It poured gas on the fire for the creative side of me.”
Riggs regularly plays for audiences that number in the thousands. He said his biggest crowd was 15,000 people in France.
Although he has an affinity for floatplanes, Riggs flies both the de Havilland Beaver and Cessna Caravan for Seaplanes. As of last week, he had flown to most Southeast communities on the company’s map, except for Wrangell and Klawock.
Riggs doesn’t consider himself “wildly famous” and has been surprised that some passengers have recognized him.
Seaplanes received a request this spring from a Texas fan whose husband has pancreatic cancer and as a bucket list item dreamed of flying with Riggs.
“They were just huge Sam Riggs fans,” Kline said. “We had never done anything like that where someone had requested a specific pilot.”
In late May, Riggs took the couple in a Beaver to Turner Lake near Juneau, where he played music and showed them waterfalls.