Photography by Sarah Cahill
It's a practically perfect first Friday night of summer at Nashville's Ascend Amphitheater, and somewhere near 7,000 fans are packed together to watch Walker Hayes sing, dance and, at times, preach his way through his hometown show.
With a pre-show lineup of songs that ran the gambit from pop standards like 'I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)' and country classics like 'Fancy’, to mainstream rap tracks and even a dose of K-Pop, it's as if Hayes was prepping the audience for the full spectrum of music they would hear over the next hour and a half on his 2023 Duck Buck Tour.
The Monument recording artist strutted to center stage, kicking things off with his southern-living anthem 'Y'all Life’. Hayes' dance moves began to come out as the first notes sounded, bolstered by his crew of background dancers that popped on and off stage throughout the night. As the evening progressed, the crowd, which was full of families and small kids as far as the eye could see, were happy to show off their moves as well.
“This place looks cool without people in it, but it looks really cool filled up like this. Thank you guys for coming out tonight” Hayes gushed. “I’m excited to be here. This is definitely the biggest venue I've played in Nashville. I've been here a minute. My wife and I moved here in 2004 and I just wanted to write songs”.
The singer-songwriter went on to explain that, while he does love writing songs, Nashville is full of the best writers on the planet and that it was his dream to cut an outside song. A dream fulfilled, he played the unreleased 'Deer Lord’, which takes on the structure of a prayer with the ultimate ask being to see a lot of deer on his hunting trip.
One of the night's highlights came around the halfway point as Hayes broke out into his 2017 breakthrough single, 'You Broke Up With Me’, which was a notable fan-favorite among the crop.
It was followed by the Alabama native's sincere testimonial, 'Craig’, as well as a special moment shared with his daughter, Loxley. The pair took the stage alone, with only an acoustic guitar, to perform one of his more sentimental tunes, 'if father time had a daughter’, and it's safe to say that 7,000 Nashvillians are now Loxley's biggest fans.
Photography by Sarah Cahill
As Hayes trucked along to the end of the set, the energy hit a fever pitch as he played his "most honest song," 'AA’. From the first words, the crowd took over, screaming the opening chorus and making the remainder of the tune one giant singalong.
Showing off another unreleased track, 'Stetson’, Hayes' finished off the night with the nostalgic '90's Country' and his blockbuster 2021 hit single, 'Fancy Like’, which saw mostly everyone in the crowd dance along to its viral TikTok choreography.
When it comes to Walker Hayes, he often feels like an enigma. Building his brand on sounding completely different from anything else in the country format, his live show mixes together elements of traditional country, toe-tapping pop, guitar-slinging rock 'n' roll and heavy, bass-driven hip hop to form the most oddly satisfying and downright joyous experience.
Fit with his raspy sing-speaking, jaw-dropping production, a running tab of high-energy songs and dance moves galore, Walker Hayes invites us into his Duck Buck world with open arms and a yeehaw or two along the way.
Walker Hayes - Set List
Taken from his headline set at Ascend Amphitheater on Friday, June 23, 2023.