Bell Bottoms, Backroads & Big Stages: Lainey Wilson Steps Into Arenas (1)
Cover photo by Erick Frost

Lainey Wilson could give the Energizer Bunny a run for his money. 

The tireless country star did 162 shows in 2023. And that doesn’t include guest appearances, press days, photoshoots, songwriting sessions and music videos. She’s no stranger to the road or air, flying 15 hours from her multi-city Australia tour, knocking out a photo shoot and getting back on a plane to Nashville – in the same day. 

She’s the reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year, the first woman to win the trophy since Taylor Swift in 2011. She won the 2024 Grammy for Best Country Album for her Broken Bow Records album Bell Bottom Country, which has surpassed 750 million streams. She was recently named People’s Choice Female Country Artist of the Year and she made her acting debut in season five of Paramount’s hit television series “Yellowstone.” But Wilson, age 31, still works like an up-and-comer chasing the dream instead of living it. 

“There are so many people who work their fingers to the bone and release great music and they never get these opportunities,” explained Wilson. “I’m very, very thankful. But at the end of the day, I’m writing music and wanting to make a difference in people’s lives. And that’s what I’ve gotta keep doing, that’s what I’ve gotta keep striving for.”

With six No. 1 hits and her latest song “Country’s Cool Again” — her ode to the rural lifestyle and more than a passing nod to Barbara Mandrell’s “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool” — Wilson is leading a bell-bottom heartland revival with flair.

She’s earned the respect and admiration of the industry with a mix of tenacity, humility and unbridled enthusiasm, all lessons she learned growing up in Baskin, Louisiana (population 211), on a farm where the family raised corn, wheat, soybeans and, just perhaps, dreams. 

Frost Engagement 2017

Viva Lainey: Wilson wrapped a four-night stint at The Theater at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas on Dec. 16, 2023.  Photo by Erick Frost

“I’ve watched my parents go through good years and bad years with farming and it didn’t stop them from getting up every single day and busting their tail to do what they were supposed to do,” said Wilson, a proud fifth-generation farmer’s daughter. “It was their livelihood, and their life.”

Wilson was a teen when she started writing songs on the bathroom floor because the acoustics were good and would literally impersonate Hannah Montana at weekend birthday parties. She toured Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas with a local band and after graduation in 2011 she moved to Nashville, living in a Flagstaff bumper-pull camper-trailer parked behind a studio for three years, riding out summer heat, bad plumbing and even an occasional tornado warning. 

“At the end of the day, it was a test,” said a contemplative Wilson. “It was one of those things where I was supposed to do that because it was going to teach me that this business was not easy and if I wanted it, I was going to have to stick it out.” 

Ask any server or valet attendant breaking into Nashville’s music industry: it’s not for the faint of heart. Hundreds of thousands have tried and gone home empty-handed. Wilson stuck it out and nearly 10 years to the day after leaving home, she earned her first Platinum-certified song, “Things a Man Oughta Know.”

“I got a double whammy,” Wilson explained of her plucky DNA. “My momma’s side and my daddy’s side are just a bunch of hard working, hard-headed, good hearted, give-you-the-shirt-off-their-back people. And they don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.” 

57th Annual Country Music Association Awards Backstage and Audience
The Dream Team: Mandelyn Monchick and Lainey Wilson backstage at the 57th Annual Country Music Association Awards at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena where Wilson won “Entertainer of the Year” honors on Nov. 8, 2023. Photo by John Shearer / Getty Images / CMA

With her current wave of success, Wilson’s manager Mandelyn Monchick of Red Light Management spends a lot of time these days saying yes. 

Wilson just wrapped her first tour of Australia headlining CMC Rocks Festival as well as two shows of her own in Melbourne at Margaret Court Arena and two shows in Sydney at The Hordern Pavilion. The gigs sold out with more than 23,000 tickets. She returns to Europe for her first headline tour in April where she has 11 sold-out dates across the U.K. and European Union in rooms ranging in size from 800 to 2,500.

Based on Pollstar Boxoffice Reports, Wilson’s average gross is $173,000 and her average tickets sold is just under 3,900. Her most recent solo Boxoffice report, however, far surpasses those totals. Last November, she played Indianapolis’ Gainbridge Fieldhouse where she sold 11,879 clean and grossed $617,708 which bodes well for Wilson.

“It is so crazy to think about where I come from, a town of 200 people in northeast Louisiana, sitting around dreaming about singing country music,” said Wilson. “It is so cool that people on the opposite side of the world can listen to my story, let me tell my story, and somehow find theirs within it. At the end of the day that’s what country music is: it tells a story and I’m a sucker for a good one.”

Her narrative may be one of the best with the crescendo popping-off right now. On May 31, Wilson kicks off her biggest U.S. tour to date playing a mix of arenas and amphitheaters with her “Country’s Cool Again” tour, promoted by Live Nation. It includes prestigious plays at music temples like Radio City Music Hall and L.A.’s Greek Theatre as well Vancouver’s Rogers Arena and OKC’s Paycom Center. 

“Going into 2024, a lot is similar, but the rooms are just bigger,” said Austin Mullins, Wilson’s agent at WME. “She has a domestic headlining tour in arenas and amphitheaters, but we are doing tours in the U.K., Europe and Australia in varying sized rooms. There are a handful of festivals sprinkled throughout those tours, but the focus is headlining and establishing her as a global hard ticket act.”  

Because of the way her career exploded at the end of 2022, Mullins said they skipped some steps domestically, jumping straight to arenas and amphitheaters, bypassing a proper theatre tour. For perspective, she was the first of three openers with Luke Combs at Mohegan Sun on Nov. 5, 2022. Her headline show in the same arena on March 20, 2023, sold out during the pre-sale the next week. 

“In four and a half months, her touring changed that drastically,” Mullins said. 

A year earlier, when tour manager Meg Miller joined the team in 2021, Wilson and her band were touring in a van – without AC or heat – pulling a U-Haul trailer. 

“In 2024 we are prepping for a five-bus, five-truck tour,” Miller said. “We were a group of five people on the road doing everything and now we have so much more help with a crew of 45 this summer. We have barely had time to catch our breath. As soon as we adjust to the growth, it grows again.”

“I will say, this past year we kind of got thrown into the fire and there was no tiptoeing into it,” Wilson said. “We had to level up and that means that your road crew is growing. Not long ago, it was just me and my band and the next thing you know we have a tour manager, and after that it was a front-of-house guy, and a monitor guy, and now the amount of people we have to hire to put on the kind of show that the fans are getting is really crazy.”

Between 2017 and 2018, touring was pieced together between support slots, gigs that paid enough to make some profit and shows that routed so she could at least break even. 

“From there, it was about putting on a great show, meeting every fan she could, and creating relationships with the promoters so they’d want her back,” said Monchick. 

Wilson’s first real break was opening for Morgan Wallen and HARDY in 2019, playing 1,500-cap clubs with just her guitar. 

“Those opening slots were everything,” added Monchick. “She was opening the show solo acoustic every night, a tough feat for any new artist in a club, especially a female in front of two rowdy dudes.”

Each night Wallen invited Wilson on stage for a duet, “which was not only great for the exposure, but was a seal of approval, peer to peer, which was crucial for Lainey to be taken seriously by both fans and the industry,” Monchick said. 

Before the pandemic the domestic touring strategy was straightforward and traditional, according to Mullins. They were taking advantage of tour support opportunities, headlining honky tonks in the South and Southeast and securing fair and festival performances wherever possible. 

66th GRAMMY Awards Show

From Campers to Stadiums: Lainey Wilson and Luke Combs, who played stadiums in 2023, attend the 66th Grammy Awards at L.A.’s Arena on Feb. 4, 2024.
Photo by Kevin Mazur / Getty / RIAA

Today Mullins is seeing a shift in country festivals giving more headlining opportunities to newer acts like Wilson, HARDY and Jelly Roll among others.

“I think it’s great to have so many new faces headlining the bigger festivals,” he said. “It’s refreshing to not only have new faces getting those opportunities but they also all sound so different. It brings a whole new fanbase to those events.”

“I’m in lockstep with Austin on how best to route festival opportunities based on our market history,” offered Monchick. “Austin is very intentional about making sure festival opportunities are serving Lainey’s growth and not diminishing hard-ticket value or radiusing us out of markets we need to be feeding.”

Equally important, was making a conscious effort to establish her as an international touring act as early as possible. Between 2018-2019, she played the U.K. three separate times as well as performing in Germany. The development strategy paid off and Mullins anticipates expanding her global footprint to include Central and South America and South Africa.

Tara Traub, SVP of Global Touring for Live Nation, said, “The global demand for Lainey’s tour shows authentic songwriting resonates worldwide. She’s redefining what it means to be a country artist, and we’re honored to support her journey.”

Wilson’s songwriting and artistic cred have made her a frequent collaborator in the studio as well as on the road including her multiple award-winning collaboration with HARDY “wait in the truck”; a duet with Dolly Parton on “Mama He’s Crazy” for The Judds’ tribute record; “Save Me” with Jelly Roll; and “Wilted Rose” with The Black Crowes — the band’s first ever collaboration with another artist. 

She toured with Justin Moore and Tracy Lawrence in early 2020 before the world shut down. Coming out of the pandemic and riding the success of “Things a Man Oughta Know,” she earned a slot on several major tours including Jason Aldean in 2021, Jon Pardi in 2022 and Luke Combs’ 2022 “Middle of Somewhere” tour followed in 2023 by Combs’ world tour.

“Getting into stadiums with Luke Combs in the summer of 2023 was a whole new level of live exposure,” Monchick said. “There were 50,000 to 60,000 people in the stadium every night when she went on.” 

Combs’ stadium dates held special significance for Wilson. The pair met in 2013 and spent hours writing songs in her camper. He included their joint composition “Sheriff You Want To” on his 2014 EP, Can I Get An Outlaw.

“When he asked me to go out on the road this past year, it was a full circle moment for me and for him, too,” explained Wilson as she expressed gratitude for Combs. “It’s crazy what blood, sweat and tears and years of hard work can get you.”

Propelled by success and accolades, Wilson headlined her own “Country With a Flare Tour” in early 2023, playing 28 dates in venues with an average cap of 1,200. 

“The tour announced the same day her album Bell Bottom Country was released on Oct. 28 (2022), 10 days later she won New Artist of the Year and Female Vocalist of the year at the CMA Awards, and five days later she debuted on ‘Yellowstone,’” Mullins said. “It was the perfect storm, and the rocket ship just took off after that.”  

Later that year, she won a string of CMA Awards including Entertainer, Female Vocalist and Album of the Year along with Music Video and Musical Event of the Year for “wait in the truck” with HARDY. After her big night, Combs, who won CMA Entertainer of the Year in 2021 and 2022, sent her a text.

“He was like, ‘I want you to remember that it was you who got you to this point. And I want you to go back to that place of sitting in that camper trailer and writing those songs. You’ve got to always remember that girl,’” Wilson recalled. “It’s important to have friends like that in this business.”

Fans embrace her fearless songwriting and authenticity including her trademark bell bottoms, flat-brim hats and chunky turquoise. 

“When I moved to Nashville, I realized being a decent singer/songwriter as a female is not enough,” explained Wilson, who got her first pair of bell bottoms when she was 9. “You’ve got to do something that makes people raise their eyebrows a little bit. And the thing that felt the most me was putting my bell bottoms on. It kinda made me feel like I could do anything.”

Kelly Sink and her daughter Kenzie Sink, of Lexington, North Carolina, were in Nashville for a mother/daughter trip to celebrate Kenzie’s 20th birthday, when they saw Wilson at the Grand Ole Opry on Feb. 28.


Tassles & Bellbottoms: Lainey Wilson, who is winning awards, critical acclaim and fans with her powerful performances, is gearing up for her “Country’s Cool Again Tour,” which includes amphitheaters and arenas./Photo by CeCe Dawson

“I have loved her music for a while, and when I found out she was playing at the Opry while we were in Nashville, I knew I had to be there,” said Kenzie Sink. “Lainey’s performance made me love her and her music even more because of her humble spirit and gratitude to everyone who has helped her make it this far. She is truly one of the most talented and inspiring artists in country music today.”

Kelly Sink added, “I was first drawn to Lainey by her down to earth attitude and confidence in who she is as a person. As a mother of girls, I am thankful to Lainey for being a positive role model in their lives.”

Commenting on her relationship with her growing fanbase, Wilson said, “I feel like it’s a gift, but I also feel a big responsibility. When I look out into the crowd and I see little bell bottoms and hats — and I see little girls to old women —  it feels like a movement. And I hope for them, too, I want them to feel like they can be unapologetically themselves. 

“That’s what Bell Bottom Country is. It’s about leaning into the things that make you, you. And I’m so proud to be a part.”