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Hailey Whitters heading home for Iowa City concert
‘Raised’ album pays tribute to her Shueyville roots
Even though Hailey Whitters hasn’t lived in Iowa for 15 years, the Hawkeye State is all over her latest album, “Raised.”
Whitters, 33, could have named her third album “Shueyville,” after her hometown, and no one would have blinked. Whitters resides in Nashville but the engaging singer/songwriter couldn’t help but draw from her formative years while crafting the album in Music City.
“More and more I go back (to Iowa) mentally,” Whitters said while calling from Detroit. “I was pulled by the people and places that raised me. ‘Raised’ is all about my roots, and is a celebration of the Heartland. I tried to pull the feeling of Iowa into all aspects of the album, whether it’s the music, the imagery and the videos.”
If you go
What: Hailey Whitters, with Stephen Wilson Jr. opening
Where: Wildwood Smokehouse & Saloon, 4919 Walleye Dr. SE, Iowa City
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, March 30, 2023
Tickets: $30 general admission, tables sold out; wildwoodsaloon.com
Artist’s website: haileywhitters.com/
Whitters, co-wrote all but one of the 17 tracks, which smack of small-town Middle America.
“Well, our collar’s blue but our necks are red/It’s hot as hell, sun won’t relent/Got a white T-shirt and a farmers tan,” Whitters belts out during “Our Grass is Legal.”
Homage to home
It’s obvious that a local’s fingerprints are all over “Raised.” Nashville hitmakers would be pressed to craft lyrics so authentic.
Some of Whitters’ most inspired couplets are featured throughout “Beer Tastes Better.”
“Don’t beer taste better in your hometown/Shootin’ the breeze, old memories down/Seventeen, we couldn’t wait to get out/Now we’re all comin’ back.”
Does beer really taste better in Shueyville?
“The Busch Light is so much sweeter,” Whitters said with a laugh. “Mostly this song is more about just how good it feels to crack a cold beer with an old friend. It’s about catching up on good times and commemorating how so much has changed, yet much is still the same.”
The catchy “Middle of America” is the quintessential Heartland tune.
“So many of those verse lines just popped into my head one day,” Whitters said. “ ‘Boys talkin’ bases, ain’t talkin baseball, homecoming crowns on average Joes.’ It made me think about growing up a Midwest kid.
“I wanted to document the world in which I grew up in. A lot of it is very wholesome and innocent as a kid. However, as an adult it’s about witnessing more controversial issues such as that of eminent domain.”
Much of “Raised” is reminiscent of John Mellencamp’s “Scarecrow” album. Mellencamp’s creative peak project, released more than a generation ago, was classic Middle America. One of Indiana’s favorite sons had an impact on Whitters, who was born four years after the album dropped.
“I’m a big Mellencamp fan,” she said. “My parents used to listen to his box sets and I remember not really knowing who he was at all, but just feeling like somewhat of kindred spirits. His music all felt very reminiscent to my town and surroundings.”
Whitters, who will perform Thursday, March 30, at the Wildwood Smokehouse & Saloon in Iowa City, has elbowed her way onto the country charts with the Jason Aldeans and Blake Sheltons.
But what separates her from the Music City Boys Club is her writing, which is distinctly feminine. That’s no surprise since Whitters — who dreams of collaborating with Dolly Parton — spent countless hours listening to Shania Twain, The Chicks and Alanis Morissette.
“The female voices are the only ones I hear a lotta times,” Whitters said. “When I look back on the voices that have influenced me, most of them are female. No matter what, those voices will always be inspiring young girls growing up everywhere. We need ’em and we need to hear them.”
One male country star who means the world to Whitters is Alan Jackson. The country legend recorded Whitters’ “The Older I Get.”
“It was the highest honor,” Whitters said. “I grew up on Alan Jackson records. I can still remember the first time I heard his songs. To have him as a songwriter himself, sign off on something I wrote, was a feeling like no other.”
That also described the sensation that runs through Whitters’ body when she performs a stone’s throw from Shueyville.
“I love playing for my hometown crowd,” she said. “They always show up and show out. For this show, I’m focusing on the ‘Raised’ album, but I'll be sprinkling some new songs in the mix, as well. Our opener, Stephen Wilson Jr., also a Midwest boy, is an incredible songwriter and performer. Make sure you come early to see his set. You might get an early appearance from me. ... It’s going to be a big ol’ hoedown.”
Whitters’ parents couldn’t be prouder.
“They’ve got my interview with The Iowan framed over my interviews with other major outlets,” she said. “They've supported me from Day One, and I owe them a lot for that.”
Whitters parents deserve recognition for their support. They backed Whitters, who put in the work.
“I went for it,” Whitters said. “No matter how this pans out, I’m proud of the fact that I had a dream and I chased it. It beats the hell outta me a lotta times, but I can hang my hat on the fact that I didn’t let the challenge scare me off.”
There’s so much more Whitters would like to accomplish.
“I hope to be able to make a good living making records that I love and that move people, until I decide I don’t want to do it anymore,” she said.
Unlike some folks who seldom come back to their hometown, Whitters returns as much as she can.
“I’m back pretty often,” she said. “I’ve got a little nephew now, so I like to get back as much as possible to be a part of him growing up.”
Where will fans find Whitters when she’s not onstage?
“I’ll be outside,” she said. “I get stir-crazy when I spend too much time in the city. I’ll also make sure to stop by Joensy’s and get a pork tenderloin while I’m here.”