Lainey Wilson Returns To The Grand Ole Opry For ‘Super Special’ Evening With Tractor Supply’s Emerging Artists
Wilson and fellow mentor Lauren Alaina joined Tractor Supply’s Emerging Artists for an unforgettable performance.
Lauren Alaina, Lainey Wilson, Hailey Verhaalen, Drew Hale, Cosette Smith, and Austin McNeill; Photo by Chris Hollo, Grand Ole Opry
Lainey Wilson stepped back into the Opry circle on Wednesday evening, and this time she had a few special guests by her side to help her close out the show: Tractor Supply’s inaugural class of Emerging Artists: Hailey Verhaalen, Drew Hale, Cosette Smith, and Austin McNeill.
Wilson, Ashley McBryde, Dustin Lynch, and Lauren Alaina served as mentors for Tractor Supply Company’s “Emerging Artists Program.” Close to 900 up-and-coming artists entered their original songs inspired by the Out Here lifestyle for consideration, and in May, the emerging artists were selected and paired up with mentors who offered advice and guidance as they made their way to Nashville to record their songs at a studio and meet with industry executives.
”Super Special’ Night
Before her Grand Ole Opry performance on Wednesday evening, Lainey Wilson sat down with Country Now in the Little Jimmy Dickens dressing room to share her thoughts on the program and the importance of providing mentorship to aspiring artists.
“Any chance I get to be at the Opry, I’m like, ‘Sign me up!’ It is such an honor every time I get to stand in that circle. But it’s super special tonight because I’m very proud to be a part of the Tractor Supply ‘Emerging Artists Program’ because, well, for a lot of reasons, but one, because I remember a time in my life, in my career, when I moved here in my camper and I was looking for things like this. I was looking for a mentor, pretty much just somebody who could kind of show me the ropes, tell me what to do, what not to do,” she explained.
Her Mentorship Mission
For Wilson, that person was Ashley McBryde.
“I’ll never forget, we were in Texas. I was opening up a run of shows with her, just me and my guitar. And I remember she told me, we were sitting there drinking some whiskey, and she said, ‘I want to help you.’ She said, ‘I want to help you over that wall, but you got to promise me that when you find somebody that you love and believe in as much as I do that you do the same,’” the “Watermelon Moonshine” singer recalled before adding, “This is kind of my way of doing that.”
Wilson has gotten to know the emerging artists in recent months and said she is thrilled that they have been awarded this opportunity.
“You can tell that they’ve got the music bug and they’re eat up with it and they want to do anything to give it a shot. And I think what Tractor Supply is doing is great. They’re giving people that shot helping each other over that wall,” she said.
Recalled Her First Opry Performance
As Verhaalen, Hale, Smith, and McNeill prepared to step onto the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, Wilson remembered her first time on the legendary stage: February 14, 2020.
“I was nervous,” she recalled. “This was it. When you asked me, what venue do you want to play? I would’ve told you the Grand Ole Opry.”
Wilson has now performed at the Grand Ole Opry on numerous occasions, and on Wednesday, she graced the stage several times throughout the evening, performing “Thicc As Thieves” with Lauren Alaina, “Handful of Dust” with Charlie Worsham, and a set that included her hits “Heart Like A Truck,” “Watermelon Moonshine,” and a cover of The Judds’ “Mama He’s Crazy.”
As her career continues its meteoric rise, she continues to pave the way for others.
Emerging Artists Prepare To Take The Opry Stage
Minutes before showtime, in a separate backstage dressing room, the emerging artists shared what was going through their heads as they prepared to perform on the Opry stage.
“I am not really thinking much of anything right now,” North Carolina native, Austin McNeill said. “It’s kind of overwhelming to think about what we’re going to do…We’re going to be on stage playing in front of everyone. It’s kind of surreal.”
This was a full-circle moment for Drew Hale, who first came to Nashville 20 years ago and declared, “I’m going to play the Opry someday.”
“For me, this has been a lifelong pursuit,” Hale explained. “And to step on the stage tonight is more than just a checkoff on a bucket list. I have friends and family coming down, close to a hundred people, if not maybe a little more, that came down for this…I don’t believe in coincidence. I believe that things happen for a reason and there is a tangible, palpable momentum happening in our lives and in our careers right now. I can’t shake the feeling that tonight isn’t the end or a checkoff on a bucket list, but it’s just the beginning of something bigger for all of us.”
What They’ll Take Away From The Program
While backstage, the artists also reflected on their experience in the “Emerging Artists Program” and shared some of the advice they received from their mentors as they awaited their turn to take the stage.
Hailey Verhaalen, who moved to Nashville seven years ago, had the opportunity to work directly with GRAMMY-winner, Ashley McBryde. Their mentoring sessions had a profoundly positive effect on her songwriting and artistry.
“One of the things that Ashley said to me during our mentoring session was to write and sing the music that lives inside of you,” she explained. “As a songwriter here in Nashville, I write a lot of other people’s stories and I focus on a lot of other people’s lives. I also write a lot for myself but recently have been focusing on other people. So it kind of gave me the permission to take glimpses into my story and the things that this program has brought to light that they thought were special…I started writing about those things and I really love the music that’s coming out of me because of this program.”
A Sense Of Community
Cosette Smith says she learned to always be authentic and emphasized the feeling of community that Tractor Supply’s “Emerging Artists Program” brought her and the other rising artists.
“This program has taught me that people care about us, emerging artists, they want to know who we are, they want to hear us, they want to help us. I have met so many people that I now have on my team who are now supporting me, helping me, working with me, working for me, want this vision that I’ve had, and I don’t have to do it alone anymore,” she explained. “And that is the hardest part of this is when you are doing it alone. And now none of us have to do that anymore.”
At the conclusion of the Wednesday night Opry show, Hailey Verhaalen, Drew Hale, Cosette Smith, and Austin McNeill joined mentors Lainey Wilson and Lauren Alaina for an unforgettable performance of “Will the Circle be Unbroken” on the historic Opry stage. As Hale said, this performance wasn’t the end of an era, but the beginning of one, as the artists continue to chase their musical dreams.
To learn more about Tractor Supply’s “Emerging Artists Program,” click HERE.
Lauren Jo Black
Lauren Jo Black, a University of Central Florida graduate, has immersed herself in the world of country music for over 15 years. In 2008, she co-founded CountryMusicIsLove, eventually selling it to a major record label in 2015. Following the rebranding of the website to Sounds Like Nashville, Black served as Editor-in-Chief for two and a half years. Currently, she assumes the role of Editor-in-Chief at Country Now and oversees Country Now’s content and digital footprint. Her extensive experience also encompasses her previous role as a Country Music Expert Writer for Answers.com and her work being featured on Forbes.com. She’s been spotlighted among Country Aircheck’s Women of Influence and received the 2012 Rising Star Award from the University of Central Florida. Black also spent time in front of the camera as host of Country Now Live, which brought live music directly to fans in 2021 when the majority of concerts were halted due to the pandemic. During this time, she hosted 24 weeks of live concerts via Country Now Live on Twitch with special guests such as Lady A, Dierks Bentley, Jordan Davis, Brett Young, and Jon Pardi. Over the course of her career, she has had the privilege of conducting interviews with some of the industry’s most prominent stars, including Reba McEntire, Blake Shelton, Luke Combs, Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Lainey Wilson, and many others. Lauren Jo Black is a longtime member of the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.