Hailey Whitters sells out ‘Raised’ tour performance at Wildwood

On March 30, Hailey Whitters performed a sold out show at the Wildwood Smokehouse and Saloon in Iowa City to celebrate her latest album release “Raised,” which is based on the singer-songwriter’s experiences growing up in a small town in Iowa.


Cody Blissett

Hailey Whitters sings during her concert at Wildwood Smokehouse & Saloon in Iowa City on Thursday, March 30, 2023.

Stella Shipman, Arts Reporter

Hailey Whitters took to the stage Thursday at the Wildwood Smokehouse and Saloon in Iowa City to a sold-out show during the last weekend of her “Raised” tour.

Cowboy boot heels clicked on the saloon’s wooden floors, lights bathed their rustic beams in colorful rays, and Busch Lights were stacked sky-high.

The concert showcased some of her most popular pieces as well as some songs from her latest album, “Raised,” which released March 2022. Whitters announced on stage that “Raised” was inspired by her experiences growing up in Iowa.

Originally from Shueyville, Iowa, Whitters has been performing live since she was 26 years old. For the last 16 years, she has pursued music in Nashville.

“Raised” is her fourth album and her first to reach the Billboard charts. Whitters was also nominated for a Grammy award in 2022 for Song of the Year with her track “A Beautiful Noise.”

Stephen Wilson Jr., who is a fellow country singer-songwriter from Southern Indiana, opened the show. His music videos have won several film festival awards, and he has played with musical groups on national and international tours.

Wilson Jr. collaborated with Whitters on his latest single, “American Gothic,” which debuted March 24. During his set, he pulled Hailey onstage to perform it with him, rounding out the song with their rich harmonies.

Wilson Jr. switched between two acoustic guitars during his set, which also featured Scotty Murray on soundboard, who lended each song the sounds of other instruments beneath Wilson Jr.’s intricate guitar chords.

The singer’s bass voice rang with sultry vibrato, and every note flowed effortlessly. His lyrics painted nostalgic pictures of childhood moments and explored his Midwestern sense of identity.

Wilson Jr. was followed off the stage before Whitters took the spotlight. She was joined by several bandmates, including Trent Armstrong on drums, Ethan Burks on guitar, Mike Reilly on bass, and Sedra Bistodeau on fiddle.

With a pink and white dress and a fuchsia bow in her blond hair, Whitters was a vibrant presence on stage. From the moment her set began, Whitters made a powerful connection with her audience. She linked fingers with the waving front row and blew kisses to the balcony, much to the adoration of fans.

To establish the tone for the concert, Whitters started her set with “How I Was Raised” and then moved right into an upbeat second song. Bistodeau introduced the fiddle to Whitters’ music, offering her sound a bluegrass element, and contributed high harmonies to several pieces.

Whitters’ narrative lyrics covered a wide range of topics, including love stories, self-acceptance, and friendships — a variety to which listeners attribute their enjoyment.

Attendee Courtleigh Stroughmatt from Wapello, Iowa, was introduced to Whitters’ music by her friend Julia Wisner, whom she went to Whitters’ concert with, along with their friends Naomi Jaeger and Maryellen Baldwin.

“Honestly, before I met [Julia], I didn’t know who [Whitters] was, and then I listened to her music, and I can relate so much more to her music than to most people that are out there nowadays,” Stroughmatt said. “I love her music now that I know who she is and I can relate to who she is.”

For several songs, Whitters also played the guitar, adding acoustic sounds to the twang of Burks’ electric guitar and the foundational depth of Reilly’s bass.

Among the songs that Whitters played from “Raised” were “College Town” and “Beer Tastes Better,” both of which are about Whitters’ life growing up in Iowa — another relatable aspect of her music.

“She’s from Iowa, so she knows the living from around here,” Jaeger said. “I’m from a small town, too, so I get where she’s coming from.”

Whitters’ audience was incredibly responsive during the night, especially when it came to a particular song from her new album: “Plain Jane.” Though Whitters sang the song, she hardly needed to because her fans sang it so passionately for her.

By the end of her set, after three encore songs and a grateful farewell, Whitters stepped off the stage and greeted fans on the floor. She left a powerful impression on her listeners, who have no doubt that she will continue to take the world of country music by storm.

“She’s the next Shania Twain,” Baldwin said.