Walker Hayes’ Dream On It tour marks a dream fulfilled


Dylan Shen

Pop-country artist Walker Hayes fires up the crowd from the edge of the House of Blues stage.

Riley Robinson, news staff

Two years after Walker Hayes’ last performance in Boston, his high-spirited Dream On It tour marked a sweet stage of career metamorphosis.

At House of Blues on March 23, the pop-country artist recalled the last time he stood on that stage as the opening act for Dan + Shay’s Obsessed tour in December 2016.

“I was scared to death,” Hayes said. “It was just me and a loop, and I remember saying, ‘[Expletive], man, I hope one day I can park my bus out here and see this place just jam-frickin’-packed.’ I frickin’ love me some Boston.”

Hayes dressed the part: The only thing he was missing was a Dunkin’ cup to accessorize his David Ortiz Red Sox jersey.

His set opened with “Dollar Store,” an upbeat, frothy track emblematic of Hayes’ style. It’s sprinkled with “woo-hoo’s!” and filled with quirky lyrics so specific it feels they can only be pulled from a real-life, fluorescent-lit aisle:

Paper plates saying happy Halloween

Candles smellin’ like cookies and cream

St. Patrick’s Day party hat with elastic strings

This specificity, the atomizing of everyday moments into surprisingly tangible lyrics, makes Hayes a standout storyteller. His subject matter hugs close to his lived experience: “Beckett,” from the album 8Tracks Vol. 2: Break the Internet, is a lighthearted tribute to one of Hayes’ sons that got the crowd swaying. He also played the ballad “Beer in the Fridge,” which describes his battle with alcoholism, on a keyboard under a wash of mellow blue light.

Hayes, like many other country artists right now, perches on the fence of country and pop but occasionally irons his melodies thin to a sound resembling rap or even spoken word. With emphasis more on intensely personal lyrics, rawness is his brand. One of the night’s best moments happened during his performance of “Beautiful,” when he momentarily forgot his own lyrics and subbed in a few “nah nah’s” before announcing his own mistake. The audience laughed with him.

Hayes’ backstory, much of which he reveals in the albums 8Tracks and boom., is uniquely heartwarming. Three years ago, the Mobile, Alabama, native and father of six worked stocking frozen vegetables while working out lyrics and hoping for a hit.

“I was driving a Honda Accord and I was working at Costco,” Hayes said between songs. “I used to clock in about 4 a.m. every day … I didn’t have any idea something like this would ever happen to me, or for me.”

Everything changed with “You Broke Up with Me,” a 2017 single that went platinum. Ostensibly, it’s about a guy confronting his ex, but Hayes told Taste of Country it was really a reaction to getting dumped by his first label, Capitol Records.

Now fans just have to wait and see if the opener, Filmore, mimics Hayes’ success and ties the “rise to stardom” narrative in a circuitous bow.

Filmore, of Nashville, Tennessee, is comprised of Tyler Filmore and a three-person band and is best known for “Slower” and “Love That About You.” Like Hayes’, their music pushes country’s pop-leaning boundaries: There was no acoustic guitar in sight as the lead singer bopped and kicked around the stage.

Fortunately, their music shares Hayes’ attention to delightful details.

“You know someone with all those weird quirks?” Filmore said to introduce the song “Love That About You.” “Like they always lose their sunglasses so they have to buy new ones, or they like Sprite from a drive-thru? This is for them.”

Filmore announced the band’s drummer, BC Taylor, is a Berklee College of Music alum, so the Dream On It tour was a victory lap all around.

“My suggestion to you guys is to dream big, dream huge,” Hayes said toward the end of the night. “Dream that one day you’re going to one day almost sell out the House of Blues in Boston.”