One week ago I said country music could be laid to rest with George Jones. After seeing Dale Watson's show Friday (5/3) I realize that not only did I speak too soon, but country music is alive and well and in loving, capable hands.
Newton, Illinois isn't exactly the biggest city in the state, but Dale Watson transformed it to the the center of country music. Watson packed the lodge of the local Fraternal Order of Eagles for a magical night of pure honky tonk music. A few decades ago people like Hank, Lefty, Buck and Jones toured everywhere to take their music to their fans (not just the big cities with the large arenas). Country was the music of the "common people," and given that most people didn't live in a big city the country singers went to the county fairs, high school gyms and bars/nightclubs in the tiny towns in order to accommodate their fans. Watson knows the history and traditions of country music, and that includes hitting the Newton, Illinois-sized towns as well as the big cities (the previous evening's show was in Memphis). That is part of his appeal.
The other main attraction is Watson's music. Dale Watson is the second coming of country music, and that is not an exaggeration. No voice-correcting, pyrotechnical, gyrating gimmicks with this man. Vern Gosdin once had an album titled Warning: Contains Country Music, and there's no question that a similar label should be on Watson's tickets. It's country music, pure and simple (the band consists of just four people: Watson, stand-up bassist Chris Crepps, steel guitarist Don Pawlak and drummer Mike Bernal). And, if you have any doubt about what should be defined as "country music" (in these days of Kid Rock getting a Nashville Walk of Fame star or people wanting Lynyrd Skynyrd inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame), Mr. Watson will be quite happy to set you straight. "Most of these people," Watson said after singing "Old Fart (Song for Blake)," the song he wrote after the controversy earlier this year, "who do what they call 'country music' these days suck." Blunt, to the point, and deserving of the loud round of applause he received.
|Dale Watson (center) enjoys the enthusiasm of the |
Friday night crowd
c. 2013 K.F. Raizor
Watson doesn't just verbally badmouth the pop/rock music passing itself off as country, however. He lets his music serve the indictment with its honky-tonk purity. He opened with "Sit and Drink and Cry" and continued with a balanced blend of his own well-crafted originals and covers for nearly three hours. His only "breaks" came when members of the audience sent shots to the stage for the band ("I don't drink normally," Watson joked after receiving each of the gifts, making no effort to hide the bottle of Lone Star at his feet) or when someone walked up to the stage to request a song. Watson even signed a couple of autographs from the stage during a song (something I've only seen happen one other time, at a George Strait concert in the early 80s, leading me to believe this must be a Texan thing) and jovially demanding someone who took his photo during a song's introduction retake the picture because "I was blinking."
Other than that, it was all about the music -- and all country music. Highlights included his two-step lesson song "Quick-Quick, Slow-Slow," "Broke Down in Birmingham," one of many truck driving songs he's written and recorded over the years, a stunning rendition of George Jones' "Walk Through This World With Me" followed immediately by a new song Watson wrote after Jones' death in which Watson proclaims he is "Jonesing for Jones since George is gone," "Legends (What If)" (another Watson original that pays homage to the rapidly-depleting number of living icons), and great covers of "For the Good Times" and "There Stands the Glass."
The show-stopper was "I Lie When I Drink," which Watson introduced with the announcement that the song earned him a new fan, TV host David Letterman, and because of the song he will appear on The Late Show With David Letterman on June 24th. When a fan who had requested the song told Watson she had missed the song because she was elsewhere when he sang it Watson merely shrugged and said, "We'll do it again." And he did.
Dale Watson could single-handedly save country music from itself, if only country music would let him. And he will certainly entertain the socks off of you, if only you will let him when he comes to your town.
Dale Watson's web site