By Levi Wright
William Elliott Whitmore is a true Iowan talent, born and raised in Iowa around country music.
“I came from a musical family,” said Whitmore, who will perform at the Englert, 221 E. Washington St., at 7 p.m. Friday. “My dad played guitar, my mom played the accordion, both my grandpas played the banjo. Music was always around, so when my hands were big enough to fit around the neck of a guitar, around age 12, I started learning chords.”
It wasn’t until he was 20, however, that he decided to become a professional musician.
“Around age 20, it seemed like it was going pretty good,” he said. “I was doing shows around Iowa City here and there, and I thought, ‘Well, maybe this is something I could do for the rest of my life.’ ”
He has now played folk-roots music for around 17 years.
“My father and grandfather played this kind of music, so it really is my roots, and it makes sense that I keep up the tradition,” Whitmore said. “Folk music is about folks. When people talk about ‘folk music,’ they’re just talking about music that’s about folks.”
He couldn’t be a better fit for the music he plays. His demeanor is level-headed, reserved, and friendly, even after his successes, which include having reached No. 50 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart.
Whitmore, who used to work on a farm shoveling manure and baling hay, noted the important role that nature plays in his creative process.
Before our interview, he said, he had just finished cutting wood and spending time in nature, two practices he holds sacred.
“I just write what I know without being too heavy-handed,” he said. “Mostly, I just want to make music that people can enjoy, listen to, and draw something out of.”
In light of the inspiration he gets from the natural world as well as from a broad range of role models such as Johnny Cash and Public Enemy, he noted the universality of music.
“We’re all trying to do the same thing, whether it’s hip-hop, punk, or country,” he said. “We’re all just trying to play a few chords and get our message out there.”
His songs cover a wide variety of topics, ranging from death and love to farm living and flipping burgers. Whitmore’s music is distinctly for the people.
But attendees at the upcoming Englert performances can only get a broad sense of meaning from Whitmore’s lyrics and general demeanor, he said — the particular interpretation will be up to them.
He does, however, make one guarantee.
“If people come out, they’re going to have a good old time,” he said.
He noted, in particular, how excited he was to be performing back in familiar territory.
“It’s the best crowd ever,” he said. “It’s my home, and so I just feel more comfortable here than anywhere else in the world. It has the best crowds, and a lot of my family, friends, and people I’ve met from other shows will be there.”