His coat was the envy of all for a couple of reasons. 

dale watson photo
Dale Watson

[Revised] Men in the crowd Thursday at Jazz Fest envied Date Watson’s wardrobe. The Texas “Ameripolitan” singer and guitar player performed on the Sheraton New Orleans Fais Do Do Stage dressed in a Johnny Cash-like long, black coat, black vest, and black slacks, and he looked not only sharp but warm. Thursday at the Fair Grounds was the first time I’ve been cold at the festival without also being wet, and I like so many others I made clothing choices based simply on the premise that the rain had passed. What I failed to consider was the effect of the stiff breeze when the sun was behind cloud cover. In those moments, a cosier, showier outfit seemed right on time.

Watson and his band The Lonestars pointed back to the days before Florida-Georgia Line, when country heroes were all Johnnys, Hanks, Leftys and Rays. Watson sang ”Feeling Haggard” to remember Merle, then he quickly launched into “Jonesing for Jones,” which celebrated George Jones in sound and words. When his salutes weren’t that overt, Watson sang truck-driving songs that also come from an era of country music that’s a long haul from Nashville 2017. When he brought out guest vocalist Celine Lee, it was to mimic the Johnny and June dynamic in a version of “Long Legged Guitar Pickin’ Man.” Lee fronted the band in a fleur de lis dress she picked up at Trashy Diva for their original “Sayonara Sucker.” The song aspired aspired to Wanda Jackson-hood, but Lee wasn’t enough of a singer to keep the song moving past its first verse and chorus. Still, the set also included Bob Wills’ “That’s What I Like About the South,” which highlighted another sound—Western swing—in his arsenal. Lyrically, the song seemed too on the nose to be a great cover, but like his cover of Jerry Reed’s “Amos Moses” played as a shout-out to Louisiana, Watson went with it because it clearly stays on brand. 

Also at Jazz Fest

- I couldn’t stop watching one of the planes pulling a banner because it looked like it could crash at any moment. When it flew into the wind, the plane slowed down with its wings rocking as it tried to tote a sign. It flew lower than other planes, which added to ominousness of each pass around the track. 

- During British R&B singer Corinne Bailey Rae, I had a lot of questions. I wondered how many people in the crowd owned one of her albums after her 2006 self-titled debut—the one with the hits. And how did she end up playing Jazz Fest. That wasn’t a knock on her. She’s charming onstage, smiling constantly with a warm sincerity, but she seemed like a slightly random choice. 

The one thought that came into focus during her set is the way singer/songwriter music drove her sound, and it’s not only because she plays guitar. When she covered Bob Marley’s “Is This Love,” she slowed it down to embrace the words and melody more than the groove, and a similar logic drove her cover of Fats Domino’s “One Night.”

- I was glad I saw Jesse McBride’s Big Band because it was genuinely big, and it was nice to check in on The Iguanas. They played the crowd favorites, but on occasions you could hear the sense of musical adventure that the members all possess. In one otherwise conventional Latin song, Rod Hodges’ guitar solo began strangled and struggling, then found form, clarity and authority as it went on. 

Revised at 10:42 a.m.

When the story first ran, we wrote that Corinne Bailey Rae played Earl King's "Lonely Lonely Nights." In fact, the song was Fats Domino's "One Night." The text has been changed to reflect the correction.