Dale Watson and the Lonestars with Rosie Flores at Exit/In (Nashville, TN - Jan. 9, 2015)
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It’s been a particularly interesting week to live in Nashville and be someone who writes about music. This week, a mashup of six top country songs went viral. The songs were virtually identical besides not being very good. It was concrete proof of what many of us know already: mainstream (so called) country music is in a pitiful state. So, maybe it is fitting that I ended my week at the legendary Exit/In for the opening night of the Baddest of the Bad Tour, which included the return of Dale Watson to the same Music City that over 20 years ago told him he was "Too Country for Country."
Different people do different things when confronted by such a ridiculous pronouncement. (As Watson pointed out from the stage of the Exit/In, no rock music act has ever been told by a rock and roll label that they are too rock for rock music.) Some people conform to the demands of the powers that be, some people give up in frustration, and some people, like Dale Watson, go out and create their own genre. Ameripolitan Music encompasses honky-tonk, Western swing, outlaw country, and rockabilly music, and it is a refuge for those who love the roots of true Country music.
It had not been an easy path, but last night Dale Watson and his superb band The Lonestars stood tall and proud for a very appreciative Nashville audience that included designer to the stars, Manuel, and the daughter of songwriting legend Harlan Howard. And, they delivered the goods with a set which was at least partially decided by requests from the audience. When Watson asked for suggestions for his mandatory Merle Haggard cover, one exuberant member of the crowd loudly and repeatedly requested, “Mama Tried” or as he said it, “Mama F--king Tried”. Watson relented and said there was an alternate universe where Merle Haggard was born in New Jersey and wrote a song called, “Mama F--king Tried”. He even added a chorus with that adaptation.
Near the end of the set, which ended too soon for me, Dale Watson articulated what I had been thinking the whole time he had been on stage. Introducing his two anti-Nashville establishment songs, “Nashville Rash” and “Country My Ass”, Watson told the story of his Nashville rejection and pointed out how much worse things have gotten in the 20-plus years since. “Back then, the worse things about country were Shania Twain and Garth Brooks. Nowadays, Shania and Garth seem like Conway and Loretta.”
The songs in the set ranged from Watson's signature trucker songs and outlaw to Western swing. Later, when he joined Reverend Horton Heat to perform a Johnny Cash song, he stated, "the music you have been hearing is not country music", expounding on the Ameripolitan sound that he created. It may not be country, but it was a powerful lesson in what country should and could be.
It was oddly appropriate that the amazing Rosie Flores, who opened the evening backed by the Lonestars, included The Sex Pistols “Pretty Vacant” in her short but rousing set. Punk, like Ameripolitan, emerged as a reaction to the bland inanity of the dominant music of the time. And although the two genres of music may seem miles apart, there is a common element of rebellion inherent in both styles. Flores followed The Sex Pistols with “Long White Cadillac”, a song written by Dave Alvin and originally performed by his band, The Blasters – one of the bands that helped to bridge the gap between punk and roots music back in the early '80s.
As previously mentioned, Reverend Horton Heat closed the evening with a raucous set that ended with a good old-fashioned mosh pit, the likes which Hank and Lefty could never have imagined. But that is a story for another time.