Intrigued by the flurry of posts that kept popping up in my Facebook feed about Dale Watson’s return to Smith’s Olde Bar, and the bevy of positive remarks praising him and his band, the Lone Stars, I wondered if this act would make for good blog fodder.
Watson’s visage, which appeared in the Facebook announcements, certainly drew attention. With his wispy white pompadour, numerous tattoos (including musical notes), and piercing blue eyes, he seemed more like a rock’n’roller than a country singer. Indeed, rockabilly is part of his act, but his deep-voiced vocals sound more School of George Jones than School of Rock. In fact, Watson even wrote the song “Jonesin’ for Jones” to give you a pretty clear hint as to where his influences lie. On the other hand, his song “Country my Ass” rails against contemporary pop country that’s forgotten its roots (as you can see I did a little pre-concert research and Youtube-watching to familiarize myself with his oevre). See an example of “Jonesin’ for Jones” below. Thank you The Texas Music Scene TV for the video:
On my drive to Atlanta’s trusty concert dive, Smith’s Olde Bar, I looked forward to hearing those songs live and seeing what the fuss was all about. Once at the venue, the line for the show–held at the upstairs Music Room–trailed all the way down the stairs and through two adjoining downstairs rooms. I could tell already that Watson had many fans in Atlanta–the Facebook feedback rang true. In line I’d even met an acquaintance of Watson’s, a young man from Texas with slicked-back hair and cuffed jeans who’d ridden motorcycles with him in their hometown of Austin. Pretty cool.
When I finally reached the Music Room I snagged an elevated spot in the open room on the platform next to the bar where I could see above the heads. A diverse audience kept piling in, from the tidy and dignified older crowd seated at the V.I.P. tables to hipster college students in the stylings of Urban Outfitters to a couple of rockabilly chicks and cats, the love for Watson and his Lone Stars united them all.
After much expectancy, the curtain opened, and Watson and his four-piece band of Lonestars began the show. Comprised of Watson on an electric guitar covered in coins, as well as an upright bass player , a pedal steel player, and a drummer, the band certainly made a huge impression on the crowd as the energy in the room heightened. For that night, Atlanta was treated to a slice of Texas honky tonk fun. Below is an example of this in “I Lie When I Drink” although Watson stated he doesn’t drink (unless perhaps it’s Lonestar Beer, that he claims will whiten your teeth).
A true entertainer, Dale Watson certainly kept the crowd engaged with both his music and his witty onstage commentary. The band loved to break into impromptu advertisements for Texas’ own Lonestar Beer set to bossanova-sounding elevator music:
What also set this show apart was the Chicken $hit Bingo. Yes, you read that right. Chicken $hit Bingo. A regular pastime at Watson’s bar the Big “T” Roadhouse in St. Hedwig, Texas, this form of bingo involves a chicken within a large cage (at the back of the room) standing upon a giant bingo card. Each person playing receives a ticket with a number. If said chicken defecates upon your number, you win a cash prize. That night’s feathered star was named Loretta. Watson’s other chickens include Patsy (as in Cline), Dolly (as in Parton), Rosie, and Wanda (after the rockabilly queens Rosie Flores and Wanda Jackson). All the chickens are, according to Watson, treated well and humanely and all are female, since he believes females are the best (good call, Dale Watson). More about that fine feathered game
In addition to Watson’s songs as the lead singer, he summoned his singing partner Celine Lee onstage for duets. While the two may seem far apart in age, they certainly come across as equals singing feisty old standards like Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty’s classic “You’re the Reason Our Kids are Ugly” as well as songs they composed together like the touching “That’s How I’ll Miss You,” with such lines as “like the sky misses blue,” “like Johnny missed June,” “you’re the ‘yes’ to my ‘maybe’,” and “you’re the grits to my gravy,” the last two phrases of which Watson claims he coined. See their combined version of the old chestnuts “The Wild Side of Life,” and “It Wasn’t God who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” its answer song, below. It’s funny how Watson attempts to sing a verse in edgewise:
Whether singing songs about his band members like “The Don Don Boogie” in honor of pedal steel player Don Pawlak, uptempo rockabilly numbers like “Rattlesnake Train,” suggestive grooves like “My Baby Makes Me Gravy” or the sweet and sad ballad “Call me Insane,” Watson stays true to the classic sounds he’s adamant to preserve. He believes in the promotion and continuation of classic country tradition so much that he and his promoter Phil Doran created the term “Ameripolitan” to describe music within four classic genres: Western swing, honky tonk, rockabilly, and outlaw, as opposed to what he sees as the pop country of Music Row and the more folk-based Americana genre. Watson founded the Ameripolitan Music Awards in 2014. More on Ameripolitan
While Watson portrayed the consummate showman onstage and had a standout rockabilly aesthetic, there was also a quite humble quality about him. With his down-to-earth Texas humor he made the venue seem like a genuine honky tonk or a friendly neighborhood bar. It was clear he was genuinely happy to be playing in a city that loved him and vice versa. He did mention how Atlanta is a special place to him where he has many friends. It’s obvious that he has a devoted fan base here who know his songs by heart and experience a little slice of the honky tonk life he brings with him all the way from Texas. All in all a rip-roaring good time.
To get a sense of Dale Watson’s humor, check out this hilarious video for “My Baby Makes Me Gravy.” Thank you for posting this, Sean G. Lane:
Thank you for reading,