Photo: Harper Smith / Courtesy of Missing Piece Group

Hailey Whitters Sings About Having ‘The Dream’

Hailey Whitters is a self-proclaimed dreamer whose goal is to be a country music star. After a dozen years in the business, this record may make the dream a reality.

The Dream
Hailey Whitters
28 February 2020

What does it mean to be a dreamer? On the positive side, being a dreamer suggests someone who is a romantic idealist whose goal may exceed one’s reach but whose striving itself is a noble endeavor. The downside is that reality can get in the way of one’s vision and create unnecessary pain for that person and those close to him or her. Hailey Whitters is a self-proclaimed dreamer whose goal is to be a country music star. After a dozen years in the business, she has become bitter, but that doesn’t mean she has given up.

The 12 songs on The Dream show that while she may have become more pragmatic about her career, Whitters still believes in herself. More importantly, the music reveals she’s not delusional. She has an abundance of talent as a performer and a songwriter who deserves a large audience and success. The opening track on Whitters’ latest release encapsulates her situation well. The first words of the song explain, “I’m 12 years into a ten-year town,” as she sings about her move from Shueyville, Iowa to Nashville. She expected to have to work hard and then be rewarded for her efforts. The conventional wisdom is that one should take ten years to make it in the country music capital, and if one doesn’t make it by then, one should just give up.

Whitters has failed by her standards, but she hasn’t stopped trying. Commercial success has eluded her. She’s still waiting tables while waiting for her big break. And the music world itself has changed. As she wryly notes, being famous for 15 minutes and hearing her name on TV or seeing it on the label of a record seems specious at best during a time when television and recordings are outmoded media. The song is a heartbreaker. She sings it with conviction and an ache in her voice. But there is also a sweetness between the lines (co-written by Brandy Clark). She hasn’t given up and is still chasing her dreams.

This upbeat tone, even though life can be a disappointment, permeates the album. Whitters makes it clear that “Instead of countin’ up the days / I just want to make them count.” She offers wistful looks backward but is much more concerned with living in the present. So, sure one can get drunk in the afternoon and listen to Patsy Cline on the Victrola, but that doesn’t mean one should give up. Moving on doesn’t mean forgetting where one came from.

Whitters soulfully sings about her small-town roots on “Heartland”, where it was expected that a woman her age would be settled in a paid-for house with a couple of kids by now. I live within spitting distance of her hometown of some 570 people—and it was probably even less populated when she was a kid. One would presume that no one from a hamlet that tiny would ever make it in the big world. Whitters doesn’t see her upbringing as a hindrance but just a fact. It’s the place where she learned her values. She delineates these on “Happy People” (co-written by Lori McKenna) in a matter of fact voice where she shares the secret of a good life is being honest with oneself and others, doing things rather than coveting what others have and learning from one’s mistakes. It’s good advice, simply presented to the complex question of what are we here for?

She offers the opposite scenario on “The Faker” (co-written by Hillary Lindsey and Waylon Payne) about falling in love with a liar and cheat. Being good doesn’t mean being played for a sucker. Whitters offers advice from “Janice at the Hotel Bar” (another co-write with Lori McKenna), a grandmother who wears red lipstick and drinks, curses like a sailor, and has had many experiences with men. Janice knows the importance of not lying (although one doesn’t have to tell the whole truth), birth control, good wine, and good company. She provides an example of living a worthy life without being limited by social conventions. Janice has lived her dreams.

Whitters is a dreamer. She ends the album with “Living the Dream” (yes, a co-write with Lori McKenna) in which she states that love is all that matters. It’s the only false note on a record brimming with honesty. That doesn’t mean love isn’t important or even vital to having a rich existence. But as Whitters other compositions suggest, it’s not enough or she would be back in Iowa with the two kids, a husband, and a house.

RATING 8 / 10