CVIndependent

Mon07062020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Dale Watson is a honky tonk hero and a legend of country music—in part because he wholeheartedly eschews the mainstream.

Originally from Birmingham, Ala., Watson now calls Austin, Texas, home. He owns a saloon there called the Little Longhorn Saloon, which is home to “Chicken Shit Bingo”—a weekly event during which a chicken is placed on a table with numbers on it.

If you have the number on which the chicken does its business, you’re a winner!

I chatted with Watson before his Friday Stagecoach performance, and asked him the question: What do you love about country music?

“I don’t love country music,” Watson replied. “Not today’s country music—not one bit. I love what used to be called country music. I’m a big fan of a genre called Ameripolitan right now, which is what country music used to be: Western swing, rockabilly and honky tonk music. In that regard, what is it about the country music that I love? I love it because it’s honest; it’s real; and it’s something I can relate to. Today’s country music? I can’t relate to it at all. All the stuff that Ray Price and Merle Haggard wrote and played—it definitely speaks to me.”

Watson compared what’s happened to country music to gentrification: “It’s like walking into an old neighborhood you used to go to all the time, and it was fun to be in—and you find out it’s nothing but condos.”

Despite his anti-mainstream ethos, Watson is still in demand. He has a multi-generational audience, and he is consistently releasing records—while touring constantly.

“We play a lot of festivals and mostly honky tonks, or at least what used to be honky tonks,” he said. “I also play a lot of beer joints, and I even own one back in Texas. I recorded the Live at Chicken Shit Bingo album there, which is coming out this summer. Venues vary, but they all have one consistent theme of featuring roots music, whether it’s blues or whatever. We’ll play for the tattooed younger crowd, and the next night, a theater full of old folks.”

Watson has become a legend thanks in part to a lot of nods from younger outlaw and alternative-country musicians; Hank Williams III has mentioned Dale Watson in his songs, for example. But Watson has also garnered younger fans with his social-media savvy: He runs all of his social media himself.

“The Internet has made being more visible possible for people like me, and people who play my kind of music,” Watson said. “We also tour constantly, so when you tour this much, you hit a lot of places where young people discover you—and luckily, they’ve latched on.”

There was a period during which Watson didn’t tour.

“My kids moved to Baltimore one year, and I didn’t want to freak them out by taking them to Texas or make it harder for their mom, so I moved out there,” he said about his 2004 hiatus. “Then after seven months, I realized they were fine, and got back into the grind doing what I needed to do.

“It was tough not to play. I was miserable. That’s when I learned that the best thing for my kids would be to take care of me.”

Watson said he doesn’t get tired out by touring because he constantly mixes things up.

“I don’t do the same set. I’ve never done the same set,” he said. “It doesn’t happen that way, and I may do the same batch of songs in a week’s time, but there’s always something different going on.”

Watson said he’s always writing.

“I’m not writing operas. I’m just writing real songs based on experiences that happened to me,” he explained. “One I recently wrote is called ‘I Keep Doing Things I Shouldn’t Do,’ and it came out of a conversation with somebody who had an operation on her shoulder, and there she was, going out to the shooting range and doing everything she shouldn’t be doing. I told her, ‘You’re just going to keep doing things you shouldn’t do.’ Sounded like a song to me.

“My songs aren’t rocket science, but it means a lot to me, because I identify with it. I know I’m on the right track when I’m doing a song, and when I’m on the second chorus, people are singing along.”

Watson said that he has three (!) albums coming out later this year, including a cover album called Under the Influences, which will feature songs which inspired him. The album will include songs by Merle Haggard and also Ray Price.

As for what he thought about Stagecoach—where he shares the stage with Nashville stars performing that gentrified brand of country—he said he was enjoying himself.

“It’s great, because I saw a friend of mine who plays with Marty Stuart, and that’s what I really like about it: I get to see people I don’t really get to see that often,” he said. “In Southern California with the beautiful weather, it’s kind of a fun hang.”

This year’s Stagecoach lineup—one of the better slates in recent years, despite the high number of repeat performers—includes a nice variety: big Nashville stars, country legends, and new players in the game. Americana, outlaw country and a bunch of other genres are being mashed together for an unforgettable weekend.

Here are the acts I’ll be sure to catch at Stagecoach.


Friday, April 29

Dale Watson

Hank Williams III has given Watson (right) a nod, as have many other alternative-country bands and outlaw-country purists. Watson is a true outsider and has written songs about his distaste for the modern Nashville country machine that sells millions of records—even though no one is singing real country songs anymore. Well, Watson’s music is the real deal, and while he’s not a big name, he’s loved by alt-country fans and underground/indie music critics. That’s worth something.

Emmylou Harris

Emmylou Harris is often mentioned along with Gram Parsons and Willie Nelson—both because she’s on the same footing as a country-music legend, and because she’s worked with them both extensively. During her early career, she was actually Parsons’ creative partner. She’s won 12 Grammy awards, is a member of the Grand Ole Opry, is an inductee to the Country Music Hall of Fame, and is one of the most influential women in rock ’n’ roll. Need any other reasons to catch her set at Stagecoach?

Robert Earl Keen

He may not be the biggest name, but this guy has written songs that have been covered by the Dixie Chicks, Lyle Lovett, The Highwaymen and many others in country music. Not only is he a fantastic songwriter; he’s one of the Americana music scene’s crown jewels. Dig out some of this guy’s music if you need any more convincing. I am truly excited about the opportunity to see him live.

Eric Church

I was sort of skeptical of the Friday headliner, given he is a big modern Nashville success story. However, he’s one of the few who has earned that success by doing things his own way—a way that, at times, sort of scares people. His band members look like they’d fit right in with some of the nastiest metal bands; his fans wear T-shirts with skeletons flipping the bird that say “Eric Fucking Church” on the back; and his material touts marijuana-smoking, Jack Daniels and Bruce Springsteen. He’s the one headliner I will definitely watch.


Saturday, April 30

Jamestown Revival

Hailing from Magnolia, Texas, this duo sports a name that references one of the first European settlements in what became the United States. These guys are country-music storytellers in the spirit of Willie Nelson, Louis L’Amour, John Prine and others. They have a brand of folk music that meets Americana, and then meets country. As a result, this standout group is starting to build a faithful audience. In the short time they’ve been on the scene, the duo has played at Coachella, Bonnaroo and Austin City Limits. They’re on the path to becoming one of the biggest new things in country music à la Sturgill Simpson and Shovels and Rope, so be sure to check them out.

Langhorne Slim and the Law

It’s hard to believe this guy has been around since 1999 and has toured with the Avett Brothers, Violent Femmes, Old 97’s and many other big name acts—yet he remains an independent artist. He’s probably one of the best modern-day songwriters, yet not that many people know about him. This is someone you’ll definitely want to put on your list; whether you’re going for the Big Nashville bands or the Americana and alternative-country acts, you’ll agree that he belongs at Stagecoach. Also: Do the music world a solid by buying some of his merchandise and telling your friends about him.

Pokey LaFarge

Pokey LaFarge is to country music as Nick Waterhouse is to rock ’n’ roll: They’re young men who have an appreciation for the old-school style. Pokey hails from St. Louis, performs country-swing music, and expresses distaste for most modern music. He grew up on his grandfather’s music, dresses the part of an old Americana performer, and has a sound that is a throwback to another time—and he pulls it all off brilliantly. He released a record on Third Man Records and was produced by Jack White himself; that alone should give him some credibility.

John Fogerty

Creedence Clearwater Revisited, which just played a show here, is successful and fun to watch. But let’s face facts: John Fogerty was the driving force behind Creedence Clearwater Revival. Fogerty has found success beyond the nasty end to Creedence Clearwater Revival, and he continues to play Creedence songs in his set. Considering there was a lot of Southern influence in the legendary band’s brand of rock ’n’ roll, Fogerty fits in at Stagecoach. In fact, he played a fantastic set at Stagecoach in 2008.


Sunday, May 1

Emi Sunshine

I interviewed Emi Sunshine (below), now 11, for her show at Pappy and Harriet’s last summer, and I was instantly charmed by her Southern accent, her love for old country music, and her fondness for the ukulele. Considering she’s already played the Ryman Auditorium (the former Grand Ole Opry House), has been on national television and has toured the United States extensively, she’s going to be a hit at Stagecoach.

The Marshall Tucker Band

When it comes to Southern rock, the Marshall Tucker Band is a name that always comes to mind. “Can’t You See” and “Heard It in a Love Song” are Southern-rock staples and continue to be played on radio stations across the country. While the band has endured a lot of lineup changes, frontman Doug Gray is keeping the group going strong. Word is the band is still great live.

The Doobie Brothers

The Doobie Brothers seem sort of out of place at Stagecoach—but that’s not a bad thing. Numerous acts have been considered out of place at Stagecoach in the past, including Don McLean and The Eagles. This is one of best rock bands of all time, and there’s no doubt the group will turn in a great performance at Stagecoach.

Little Big Town

I reviewed Little Big Town’s show at Fantasy Springs last fall, and while I’m not usually a fan of the Nashville sound, Little Big Town put on a marvelous performance that was energetic and nearly flawless. This is a great live band, and songs such as “Little White Church” and “Girl Crush” will likely get an enthusiastic crowd response. They are the one “Mane Stage” act I highly recommend; you won’t be disappointed.

Published in Previews

The Stagecoach 2016 lineup was released today—and it marks a huge improvement over the 2015 slate.

That’s not to say the lineup for the 10th Stagecoach festival does not include a lot of performers that have taken the Stagecoach stage before. Eric Church headlined Friday night in 2014; Luke Bryan also headlined in 2014, on Sunday. With two headliners returning just two years later—on the same nights to boot—one has to wonder if there are a limited amount of artists from which festival organizer Goldenvoice can choose.

That’s also not to say that many people weren’t disappointed in the absence of one, big rumored name: Garth Brooks. While there don’t seem to be too many complaints about the lineup on the Stagecoach Facebook page as of this writing, there are some comments about how it seems the list of headliners and performers seem to be repeating.

There are also complaints regarding Stagecoach’s strict RV-resort policies, limited spaces, and the application process for those spaces. The prices of the RV resort—ranging from $550 to $950—are also a sore subject. Goldenvoice has greatly reduced the amount of on-site RV camping in recent years.

Now, to the ample positives: There are some great smaller names for those who aren’t into the mainstream Nashville country scene. Dale Watson is popular to alt-country fans, especially those who reject the modern Nashville sound. Lucero, a country-punk band that has played at Coachella, will be making its Stagecoach debut. Third Man Records artist Pokey LaFarge, an old-time Americana artist, will be a real crowd pleaser for those who love bluegrass and the old Americana sound. You can also never go wrong with performers such as Emmylou Harris, Billie Joe Shaver, Robert Earl Keen, John Fogerty and the Doobie Brothers.

Who knows what memorable moments 2016’s Stagecoach fest will offer? There have been many memorable moments, such as The Eagles performing in 2008, Rascal Flatts announcing the death of Osama Bin Laden in 2011, Nick 13 of Tiger Army’s first ever solo performance in 2010, and a day of mourning and tributes to George Jones after the announcement of his death on the first day of the festival in 2013.