Walker Hayes Goes on Tour with His Family of Eight: 'We Are Drinking from a Fire Hose of Joy!'

For the first time, the "Fancy Like" singer is taking his wife, six children — and two dogs! — on his tour bus, and he couldn't be happier

Powered by his 2021 smash hit, Walker Hayes has just launched his 19-date "Fancy Like" Tour, but he's not going solo.

Along for the ride — in their own family bus for the first time — are his wife, Laney, their six children, ages 6 to 16, and their two dogs, Magnolia and Hazel.

Six kids? Two dogs? One bus? To Hayes, it's heaven.

"I love it, I just love it," says the 42-year-old artist, whose just-released album, Country Stuff, debuted in the top 10 of Billboard's all-genre Hot 200 chart. "I mean, truly, if this is how it goes, I can do this all the rest of my life. I can do this till my legs don't work. Send us everywhere, I don't care."

To note, this is coming from a man who has long had a love-hate relationship with touring — adoring his time onstage and meeting fans but enduring the mostly long and lonely hours away from home. And anyone who listens to Hayes' autobiographical songs or follows his socials knows that the Hayes family is built for togetherness.

"We're a unit," Hayes tells PEOPLE. "We lean on each other. We're gonna be together as much as we can. Laney's my best friend. I mean, I want to tell her about everything. Honestly" — he corrects himself — "I don't even want to tell her about everything. I just want to do it all with her. And then that way I don't even have to tell her. She can see it for herself, and then we can just sit and smile about it."

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Laney and Walker Hayes. courtesy walker hayes

As the tour was being planned last fall, Hayes admits he was already dreading the time away from home. Wasn't his career leap enough to pay for a second bus? It was a financial stretch, Hayes admits, but his management made it happen.

When he shared the news with Laney, he says, "We cried. We were so happy. It was better than a Grammy nomination." (He should know: "Fancy Like" recently scored Hayes his first Grammy nod for best country song.) When the couple told their six children about the adventure that awaited them, Hayes says, "they lost their minds."

Last week, the family left their Nashville-area home around 11 o'clock on a Wednesday night and piled into their tour bus for the first time. The next morning they were 575 miles away in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where Hayes played his first tour date, a sellout. Over the next two days, they moved on to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and St. Paul, Minnesota, for two more sold-out concerts. Before heading home for a four-day break, they capped their trip at Sunday's AFC Championship game in Kansas City, where Hayes performed during halftime — and accidentally stole the show on TV as his music drowned out the analysts' sports talk.

Soon after he finished, Hayes says he noticed his phone had blown up with texts from friends, who'd been watching at home. But he still didn't really grasp what had happened.

"I just thought, oh, that's good, you can hear us," Hayes says. "And then my manager looked it up [on the web], and he was like, 'You're trending.'"

Indeed, after spending the past year in astonishment as his impromptu TikTok videos caught fire, Hayes quickly realized that the stadium's poorly placed speakers had given him another unplanned viral moment: Memes have been blanketing the Internet, and the gaffe has been widely covered in the media and poked fun at on late-night TV.

Hayes is both delighted and bemused. "It's all good stuff," he says, "and it's crazy."

For Hayes, though, the boost from the unexpected publicity still pales in comparison to the bliss of being on the road with his family.

Their quarters are a 12-bunk bus with a tiny bathroom and a kitchenette. The kids got to pick their bunks, and the dogs share a bottom one of their own. The back of the bus can turn into a separate bedroom, but the couple chose to keep it a shared space for the whole family, and they each took a bunk. Clothes and gear are stuffed into the extra bunks, and road snacks are packed into more storage areas.

Hayes says the family fell easily into a tour routine: "It felt so natural. It was almost like everything we've done till now kind of prepared us to just adapt to bus life."

At a new destination every morning, Hayes is off early to a local gym or a radio interview before the rest of the family rouses. On a weekday, Laney keeps the kids on track with their homeschooling; weekends are free for leisure fun. The concert venues, of course, give the family full access, serving them meals and allowing them to spread out into dressing rooms and take showers.

Hayes soundchecks at 2 p.m., hangs with the family in late afternoon, begins meet-and-greets at 5 p.m., then hits the stage at 8:40 p.m. So far, Laney and the children have been experiencing the shows stage side, and Hayes loves having them so near.

"I never have to say goodbye to my wife and kids," he says. "I literally hug them before I go onstage, and I hug them when I get off."

After the show, they all retreat to what Hayes calls "our house on wheels." He takes the dogs for their nightly walk, returns for maybe a round or two of Uno before bed, and they all tuck in as the bus heads toward the next stop.

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Laney Hayes with Hazel. courtesy walker hayes

Hayes says their driver, Tim Hudson, has quickly become a seamless part of their traveling circus: "He could have driven us or the band, and he wants to drive us. And, wow, he's protective of us and the kids. We love him and he loves us, and he loves the kids, and he gets a kick out of the dogs and the noise."

Already, Hayes is savoring the memories of each of his children soaking up their new experiences.

Twelve-year-old Baylor has gravitated toward helping out at his dad's merch table. "That's what he wanted to do," Hayes says. "I got emotional just talking to him at the end of the night. He was so excited. He was learning how to serve people and how to work with people. He just absolutely loved it. He told me, 'Dad, this is way better than being at home.'"

Hayes' two youngest children, sisters Everly, 6, and Loxley, 8, have been avidly exploring the nooks and crannies of each venue. "I love to watch kids have a little freedom," he says. "And they love it — discovering where the bathroom is, where the green room is. And 'Here's the food, Dad, and I'm gonna get some food.' The little ones are so cute, like little ones are."

At the Milwaukee show, he called the whole gang onstage for the "Fancy Like" finale, and Hayes was excited to look over and see his two more serious-minded sons, Beckett, 10, and Chapel, 14, doing all the moves of the song's celebrated TikTok dance.

"Laney and I get teary-eyed talking about it," Hayes says. "I mean, both of them went onstage and did the dance, which is uncharacteristic of them. It was a cool moment to see your shy ones just having fun in front of all these people and cutting loose."

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The Hayes Family. Sarah Elizabeth

Hayes hasn't purposely incorporated the family into the show, but with them so close by, he's succumbed to spontaneous urges to include them. At the St. Paul show, his oldest, 16-year-old daughter Lela, who has been Hayes' collaborator and go-to partner for TikTok dances, helped him showcase their choreography for new album cut "DeLorean."

"I was just like, man, this feels good," he says. "Lela's right there. I bet she'll come out, and she did."

Before the tour began, Hayes says he was worried that Lela, with a teenager's social life and a new driver's license in hand, might be resistant to such a family-centric experience. He now knows he didn't need to be concerned.

"Lela's like, 'I can't believe this is our life, I can't believe we get to do this,'" Hayes says. "And I agree. I'm like, I can't believe it, either. I can't believe that this is work and that I get paid to do this. It's miraculous."

But the close quarters, the demands of six children, that shared bus bathroom! Isn't there anything difficult about the experience?

Hayes' answer is unequivocal: "No."

Not even some childish misbehavior?

"Well, that happens," he allows, "but that's just life! Honestly, right now, it is the dream. We are drinking from a fire hose of joy. I mean, we are probably the most annoyingly happy bunch of people to be around. We're just so grateful."

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The Hayes Family. courtesy walker hayes

All but one of the 19 dates of the "Fancy Like" Tour are sellouts, and it continues this weekend in Ames, Iowa, and Omaha, Nebraska. (The Thursday night concert in St. Louis was postponed due to winter weather.) The tour concludes in Louisville, Kentucky, on April 30 — but between his family's presence and the ecstatic crowd reactions he's been generating, Hayes already knows he's ready for more.

"Before all this I probably would've seen my career as, 'Man, I sure want to get in, do good and coast,' and now I have this spark," Hayes says. "Like, we've got bigger things ahead — kind of like y'all ain't seen nothing yet."

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