It's no secret that we love Hailey Whitters here at Holler. So, it was a given we’d be on hand to cover her 2023 Raised tour at the first available opportunity.
Whitters' has kicked off the tour in style this month, starting out at The Bluebird Nightclub in Bloomington, Indiana before heading down to The Burl in Lexington, Kentucky on Friday night (2/24).
The Nashville-by-way-of-Iowa corn star rode into the commonwealth riding the wave of success from last year’s album Raised — which we named as our Album of the Year — as she ran through several cuts from the acclaimed record.
From the stage all the way back to the bar, excited fans flooded the 350-person capacity Burl to sing-a-long and get a glimpse of the rising country star, who emerged while her band dug into the album-opening instrumental of Raised — ‘Ad Astra Per Alas Porci’ — before ascending into the record’s title track.
After running through the singalongs of ‘Big Family’ and ‘Plain Jane’, Whitters veered away from Raised, tackling her collaborations ‘Fillin’ My Cup’ and ‘How Far Can It Go?’ from 2021’s The Dream: Living the Dream (Deluxe) before turning to the more recent joint effort, “Middle Of America’ that she teamed up with American Aquarium’s BJ Barham to record.
From there, Whitters’ set became even more hyper-focused on her corn-fed, field of dreams upbringing, beginning with a cover of John “Cougar” Mellencamp’s ‘Small Town’ and her own humble anthem, ‘College Town’, which eventually descended into a party for ‘Beer Tastes Better’.
Whitters wasn’t going to let the sentimental revelry peter out either, playing her Lori McKenna co-write ‘Janice At The Hotel Bar’ - that explores appreciating what you have – and album highlight ‘The Neon’, that delves into dealing with and getting over heartbreak.
Whitters wasn’t done with her covers either, this time giving Alan Jackson’s feel-good country banger “Gone Country” a twist, all before returning to her own catalog with the swaying ‘Boys Back Home’ and ‘Heartland’.
Finishing on “Everything She Ain’t”, the up-tempo anthem of self-love and the artist’s first top 30 hit on county radio would’ve made for a fitting show finale, if only it was the end.
Abiding to the unrelenting cheers from the overflowing crowd, Whitters returned after a quick departure from the stage for an epic two-song-encore, led by the underrated early album cut ‘Dream, Girl’ and capped with a honky tonkin’ cover of ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ from one of Kentucky’s most renowned musical exports, Billy Ray Cyrus.
Prior to Whitters’ performance, those in attendance were treated to an opening set from Southern Indiana-born-songwriter Stephen Wilson Jr. Much like Whitters, Wilson’s music centered around the artist’s quaint, rural upbringing that clearly resonated with the Kentucky crowd, showcasing songs like “billy”, ‘Holler from The Holler’ and ‘Year to Be Young 1994’.
However, the most heartfelt and surprising moment from his showing came when he welcomed Whitters onstage for a performance of ‘American Gothic’, a co-write and duet with the Iowa native that Wilson plans to release as his next single in late March.
Together, and on their own, both artists illustrated through their songs on Friday night that despite being stereotyped as just cornfields and farmland, there’s still plenty worth believing in and fighting for in America’s heartland.
Hailey Whitters' setlist at The Burl (February 24th, 2023):
Ad Astra Per Alas Porci
Fillin’ My Cup
How Far Can It Go?
Middle Of America
Small Town (John Mellencamp cover)
Beer Tastes Better
Janice At The Hotel Bar
Gone Country (Alan Jackson cover)
Boys Back Home
Everything She Ain’t
Achy Breaky Heart (Billy Ray Cyrus cover)
For more Hailey Whitters, see below:
Photography by Sarah Cahill