Waylon Hanel

If you’ve been paying attention to the jam-packed schedule of events at FIM Capitol Theatre this season, you may have noticed a trend: FIM has gone hog-wild over country music. And so have its patrons.

With artists that range from local talent like Waylon Hanel and Billy Gunther & the Midwest Riders, to internationally acclaimed acts like Jo Dee Messina, Diamond Rio, The Eli Young Band and The Marshall Tucker Band, the lineup at the Capitol in 2023-24 has offered a twang that transcends generations, and seems to satisfy a craving for some down-home jams in the heart of the city.

But “going country” doesn’t mean it has been a monotonous season. From bluegrass to honky-tonk to pop, country music fans know that the genre is multi-faceted and evolutionary. The Capitol has sampled a bit of everything in the past year, beginning last fall with The Swon Brothers, The Ozark Mountain Daredevils, LeAnn Rimes and Scotty McCreery. The next cowboy-booted artist to take the Capitol stage is Gary Allan, who has engaged his fans since the mid-1990’s with his soulful, honky-tonk nod to the Bakersfield sound. And in August, Sara Evans will visit the historic theatre with her pop-infused style and powerhouse vocals.

Sawyer Auger, manager of programming for the Capitol, explains the choice to curate a country lineup this season. “It’s a combination of strategic planning and fortunate timing that led to so much country music on the lineup,” says Auger. “With artists like Beyoncé making the crossover, it has really been in the spotlight. We definitely recognized that this year was going to be a big year for country, so we aimed to feature more of it.”

But Auger books Capitol artists on a rolling basis, and he submits offers daily to a variety of acts across many genres that may or may not accept the opportunity to play. Who gets booked and when the events fall is sometimes just a matter of coincidence.

“Country artists are constantly on the road, touring all over, and luckily, their schedules often sync up with ours at the Capitol,” Auger says of how the country cards fell this winter and spring.
Waylon Hanel, a country artist on the rise who hails from Lapeer County, has played the Capitol Theatre multiple times in the last year. He has opened for other country bands like Trace Adkins and Lonestar and has performed a headline show as part of the Flint Under the Stars series.

“It’s the best feeling in the world!” Hanel says of his experiences playing on the Capitol stage. “Being asked to be part of Flint Under the Stars was extremely humbling. Hands down, the Capitol is one of my favorite places to play.”
He suspects it is this same humility that has been attracting other country artists to Flint. “It tells me how humble they are and that they do it for their fans, even in small towns,” he says.
That authenticity is not lost on the fans in the small city of Flint, who are proving Auger right in his theory that their genre of choice is on the rise. Despite the upswing in country offerings, local audiences have not stopped clamoring for more.

Jo Dee Messina

Don Herrick of Mount Morris regularly travels throughout Michigan to attend country music concerts, but loves the uptick in country offerings at the Capitol, where he has attended nearly every country show in 2023-24. “It’s so close to home and I love the venue,” says Herrick. “And in the smaller theatre, you get to be closer to the performers, so it’s a more intimate experience.”

“Country music fans are some of the nicest and most genuine people I’ve ever met,” Hanel says of devotees like Herrick. “There is a reason that they are starving for the traditional country sound again, as well as the outlaw country like I played at Flint Under the Stars,” he adds. “Every time I step on stage and play my original music, people tell me that it reflects all of those traditional sounds they like, and that’s why all these amazing fans keep coming back for more.”

Don’t miss your chance to get up close and personal with these country all-stars in the coming months!