Walker Hayes Forms A Friendship With Autistic Fan Through Meet & Greets And Surprise Applebee’s Lunch

“Matt has special needs, but Walker and his family didn’t treat him any differently than they would treat a good friend.”


Madeleine O’Connell

| Posted on

July 20, 2023

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Walker Hayes with Matt; Photo courtesy Instagram

Walker Hayes continues to fulfill the dreams of an incredibly loyal fan with special needs.  

In the spring of 2022, Hayes’ fan Matt was gifted a shirt that featured lyrics to one of his favorite songs, “Fancy Like.” A video capturing his heartwarming reaction was shared to social media and quickly went viral, catching the attention of Walker Hayes himself and Applebee’s, the chain restaurant he famously mentions in the chorus of the catchy tune. 

The country star was so touched by Matt’s excitement that he and Applebee’s teamed up to arrange a special meet and greet at one of Hayes’ concerts in Wisconsin. As his anticipation grew, Matt was seen in another video sporting his new merch and practicing Hayes’ viral dance that was choreographed to “Fancy Like.”

Once the day finally came for Matt to meet his country music hero, the “AA” singer instantly recognized who was standing in front of him. The touching moment began with Hayes embracing Matt in an inviting hug, as if they had known each other for years. It turns out, Hayes is also a fan of Matt, as he said he watched the initial video “1000 times” and proceeded to ask the excited fan to autograph his shirt in return. 

Each post was shared by Tara Phillips who started the account, autismlittlelearners, to help spread awareness and educate about young autistic children.

For this particular video, Phillips wrote, “Walker immediately knew who Matt was and embraced him. The video speaks for itself. Walker showed not only compassion and a genuine interest in Matt, but he also made Matt feel like a long time friend. Thank you @walkerhayes for being you and making Matt’s dream come true. It’s a testament to the type of human being you are. You are truly the one of the good ones. Safe travels to your amazing family!”

Later on, the fast friends ended up running into each other again in an airport where Matt volunteers. He was quick to grab another selfie with Hayes, who happily surprised him and his family with tickets and meet & greet passes to yet another one of his shows. 

However, the story doesn’t end there because before this concert, Hayes invited Matt to have lunch with him, his wife, and their kids at a local Applebee’s. Snippets from the amazing day were once again shared to social media.

The post read, “They ate Bourbon Street steaks together and had Oreo shakes. Walker brought his entire family 👨‍👩‍👦‍👦 (except for Lela, who was back training in a new dancer). Walker’s lovely wife Laney was wonderful and his kids are absolutely fantastic! It felt like a big group of old friends just chatting away and catching up.”

“Even if you aren’t a country music fan, or don’t know who Walker Hayes is…please know this…he’s a genuine, kind human being. Matt has special needs, but Walker and his family didn’t treat him any differently than they would treat a good friend. Which is what they are now 😍. “

Walker Hayes’ kind actions towards Matt have once again proved the impact of his music and the close-knit bond he strives to have with his fanbase. 

The singer/songwriter is currently in the midst of his Duck Buck Tour, which was named after a line in the title track to Hayes’ most recent album, Country Stuff The Album.

“I like shooting ducks and bucks / I like mud tires on my trucks / I like old blue jeans, guitar strings and dirt roads,” Hayes sings in the chorus of “Country Stuff,” he sings.

YouTube video

The headlining trek launched on April 13 in Rosemont, Illinois, and has continued with stops in cities such as Evansville, Indiana, Boston, Massachusetts, and Jacksonville, Florida. 

He will wrap up this run on August 5 with a concert in Sterling Heights, Michigan at Michigan Lottery Amphitheatre. The 22-date tour features support from Chris Lane, Nicolle Galyon, BRELAND, Ray Fulcher, and Ingrid Andress.

Fans can visit his official website for a complete list of upcoming tour dates.

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Madeleine O’Connell graduated from North Central College with a bachelors degree in Journalism and Broadcast Communications before deciding to pursue her studies further at DePaul University. There, she earned her masters degree in Digital Communication & Media Arts. O’Connell served as a freelance writer for over two years while also interning with the Academy of Country Music, SiriusXM and Circle Media and assisting with Amazon Music’s Country Heat Weekly podcast. In addition to Country Now, she has been published in American Songwriter, Music Mayhem, and Holler.Country. Madeleine O’Connell is a member of the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.