Every country songwriter needs a great story-song, and Hailey Whitters found hers in “Janice at the Hotel Bar.” Co-written by the Iowa native with Lori McKenna (Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush”), the gentle ballad not only tells the titular woman’s real-life tale, but imparts her hard-won advice on how to carve out a fulfilling existence. Spoiler alert: It’s not about money or Instagram likes.
The eightysomething Janice — who held court one night for an acquaintance of McKenna’s — mows her own lawn and buys generic face cream from Walgreen’s. She still makes calls on a landline and is proud to pay her bills on time. She’s pro birth control, but cautions to steer clear of most pills. She also knows the benefits of good wine and strong coffee. It’s such accessible, everyday details that make “Janice at the Hotel Bar” so captivating. The song is extraordinary in its ordinariness.
“We get so consumed with the next achievement and accomplishment in the rat race of success and what’s next, that you forget sometimes you’re living right now,” Whitters has said of the song. “It’s cool that you have dreams — go on and chase them — but don’t forget this is also the dream.”
Based around a gentle acoustic guitar strum, the song highlights Whitters’ plaintive voice and sums up the gorgeous simplicity of the songwriter’s debut album, The Dream, out February 28th. But when the prechorus hits — “Stay off the pills, but get on the pill if you ain’t ready to start a family” — “Janice” jumps a level, going on to offer a soaring declaration of intent. “Go on make a good living, girl,” Whitters sings as Janice, “but don’t forget to make a good life.”
Popular on Rolling Stone
The Music City transplant is currently on the road opening dates for Tanya Tucker. She’ll play a headlining show at Nashville’s Basement East on March 10th.
Find a playlist of all of our recent Songs You Need to Know selections on Spotify.