The king of what he calls "Ameripolitan" music carries the torch for everybody disappointed in what country music has become.
Who: Dale Watson
What: “Ameripolitan,” he says, which sounds a helluva lot like honky tonk music
When: Thursday, May 4, 4:25 p.m.
Where: Jazz Fest’s Sheraton New Orleans Fais Do-Do Stage
Why: Dale Watson flies the flag for the country music they don’t make anymore. In 1995, he sang, “I’m too country for country / just like Johnny Cash” in the song “Nashville Rash,” which hints at how he feels about what country has become. When he wants to stretch his musical world, he reaches for Buck Owens, whose “Made in Japan” Watson covered on 2016’s Under the Influence.
On Watson’s songs, Telecasters still twang, pedal steel guitars still add a lonesome to whistle to every song, and Watson drawls out tales of barrooms and the truck-driving men and women who meet in them. The emotional highs and lows are amplified tequila and Jack, and they lead to songs like “The Most Wanted Woman in Town” and “A Hangover Ago.” Watson’s game isn’t retro, though. He’s not hearkening back to good old days. Watson found his personal musical high ground and planted his flag, and he hasn’t moved it since despite changes in the market and the industry.
Country music has circled back in his direction as Sturgill Simpson and Kacey Musgraves have found success, but not so much that Music Row is ready for Watson, and Watson has no interest in making peace with them. When he chose a partner for a collaboration, he passed over Nashville’s new traditionalists in favor of Asleep at the Wheel singer Ray Benson, with whom he recorded his most recent album, Dale and Ray.