Willie Watson

Thursday
19
Oct

Genuinely Honest Old-Time Americana

Founding Member of Old Crow Medicine Show
Why you should see this show…

With a mastery of the banjo, acoustic guitar and harmonica, and a remarkable tenor voice that sounds as if it would be right at home coming out of an old vintage radio, Willie Watson is a modern yet genuinely honest throwback to old-time Americana music. You won’t want to miss this founding member of Old Crow Medicine Show and American folk purveyor, Willie Watson, in our Concert Hall.
 

 

Willie Watson Bio
Looking like a man from leaner and meaner times, Willie Watson steps on stage with a quiet gravitas. But, when he opens his mouth and lets out that high lonesome vocal, you can hear him loud and clear.

His debut solo album, Folk Singer Vol. 1, was produced by David Rawlings at Woodland Sound Studios, the studio he co-owns with associate producer Gillian Welch in Nashville, TN, over the course of a pair of two-day sessions, for their own Acony Records label. The album spans ten songs from the American folk songbook ranging from standards like “Midnight Special,” “Mexican Cowboy” and Richard “Rabbit” Brown’s “James Alley Blues” to the more obscure, like Memphis Slim’s 12-bar blues, “Mother Earth,” Gus Cannon and the Jug Stompers’ “Bring it With You When You Come,” Land Norris’ double-entendre kids chant, “Kitty Puss” and St. Louis bluesman Charley Jordan’s sing-song “Keep It Clean.” Like the music, Willie can be murderous, bawdy or lustful, sometimes in the course of a single song, with a sly sense of humor that cuts to the quick. He counters a masterful bravado with the tragic fragility of one who has been wounded.

“There’s a lot of weight in the way Willie performs,” says Rawlings, longtime friend and producer of Watson’s previous band, Old Crow Medicine Show. “He’s had some tragedy in his life, which has informed his art. There’s an emotional edge to what he does because of who he is as a human being. He’s the only one of his generation I listen to who can make me forget these songs were ever sung before.”

Born in Watkins Glen, N.Y.—best-known for its race track and the rock festival of the same name which took place there, featuring the Allman Brothers, Grateful Dead and The Band—Watson grew up listening to his father’s basement record collection, including Bob Dylan and Neil Young, before stumbling on a Leadbelly album at the age of 12. Combined with having heard plenty of local string bands—featuring old-time banjo and fiddle—Willie experienced an epiphany.

“As soon as I heard that record,” he recalls, “I was hooked.”

With a voice that could quaver in the operatic style of his favorite, Roy Orbison, Willie went on to discover North Carolina Appalachian fiddle and banjo players Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham, who played songs like “Cripple Creek,” “Sugar Hill” and “John Brown’s Dream” on a compilation cassette of “round peak style” music. He began to unearth Folkways albums, including the label’s groundbreaking 1952 Harry Smith compilation, Anthology of American Folk Music, which helped kick-start the ‘60s folk revival lovingly captured in the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis. He discovered like-minded souls in Old Crow Medicine Show.

“When we started that band, I found people that were cut from the same musical cloth,” he says. “They were my age, into the same thing, going down a similar road. We started sharing our influences, trading records and playing together.”

A few years down that road, Watson’s work with Old Crow is already a large part of the reason that banjo and guitar driven music is heard everywhere in the air these days. On Folk Singer, we find Willie defending his musical turf. A true solo album in every sense, Watson is now center-stage, armed with an acoustic guitar, banjo and the occasional mouth harp. Indeed, hearing Watson’s skillful and subtle banjo and guitar accompaniments and soaring vocals unadorned for the first time is a revelation.

Folksinger Vol. 2, the highly anticipated second solo album from folk artist Willie Watson is available now. Also produced by David Rawlings and recorded on analog tape at Woodland Sound Studios in Nashville, Tennessee, the album features eleven songs unearthed from the canon of American folk music and brought to light by Willie’s remarkable voice and wise beyond his years performances. Special guest appearances by the Fairfield Four, Gillian Welch, Morgan Jahnig and Paul Kowert round out the arrangements on this stunning sophomore collection.

One pundit called Watson “Bob Dylan without the nasal whine or pretension,” but Willie is a lot more humble than that.

“I try to take songs I can relate to and that I can sing with urgency, that I can feel,” he says. “I’m just happy if people dig it.”

 

 

Suzanne Santo Bio
Caught halfway between the dark swoon of pop-noir, the raw rasp of soul music, and the honest punch of Americana, Suzanne Santo’s Ruby Red tells the story of a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who, more than 10 years into an acclaimed career, is turning a new corner.

Produced by multi-platinum Grammy nominee Butch Walker (whose Los Angeles recording studio gives the album its name), Ruby Red marks Santo’s first release as a solo artist. For the past decade, she’s spent most of her time fronting the Americana duo HONEYHONEY, whittling her banjo, violin, and vocal chops into sharp shape along the way. Here, she takes a break from that longtime gig to explore something different, creating a moody, sexually-charged album filled with organic instruments, distorted fiddle, Walker’s powerful electric guitar, and Santo’s most stunning vocal performances to date.

“I think I started writing songs for this record long before I realized that I was writing songs for this record,” said Santo. “I’ve identified with a collaboration for so long that the thought of taking a leap into the depths of my own music and having no idea what that would look like, definitely came as a shock. I was getting lazy and not finishing the tasks at hand like I really wanted, deep down, to be able to do. Writing this record was bewitching in a way.”

Before they collaborated on Ruby Red, Santo made multiple appearances on Butch Walker’s eighth album, Stay Gold. She joined him on the road, too, singing harmonies and playing violin, guitar, and banjo during a nationwide tour in 2016. During breaks in her touring schedule, she began diving into a different type of songwriting, looking to diverse albums by Erykah Badu, David Bowie, Townes Van Zandt, and the Alabama Shakes for inspiration. For years, she’d always been somebody else’s bandmate. This was a time to explore her own identity. To write her own music. To ignore genres and defy expectations. To determine what, exactly, she wanted to say. . .and find out the best way to deliver it.

“Once Butch acquiesced to producing the record, I had an ‘oh shit!’ moment where I realized that I needed to really show up,” continued Santo. “I had to have songs that were finished, let alone good enough. I couldn’t stop and I wrote all day every day to finish the songs I’d started years ago as well as the few that presented themselves in the 4th quarter. I took long walks in my neighborhood and listened to demos on my cell phone and worked out lyrics. I would also wake up in the middle of the night with new ideas and would get up and write them down or record them. It felt like the songs were seeping through the cracks of my mind and out of my mouth, without much of my consent. I think art is a channel, connected to something much greater than we are and I feel honored when it picks me from time to time.”

Ruby Red is an album about love, life, and lust in the modern world. Moody and melody-driven, its 11 songs range from “Handshake” — the record’s epic opening track, equal parts Southern gothic anthem and slow-burning soul ballad — to the driving “Ghost in my Bed,” which pairs an explosive chorus with layers of mandolin, fiddle, and piano. Meanwhile, tracks like “Better Than That” focus on little more than Santo’s voice: an electrifying, elastic instrument that’s capable of both vulnerability and ferocity. Santo and Walker recorded Ruby Red quickly, pulling long hours in Walker’s bright, sunlit studio in Southern California. The instrumental tracks were captured live, with help from guests like pedal steel player Dr. Stephen Patt — Santo’s primary care physician, as well as a former
member of the Edgar Winter Group — and drummer Mark Stepro. Santo kept the guest list small, though, splitting the bulk of the instrumental duties with Walker.

“It was incredible to work with Butch. He facilitates a great time and an artistic environment that orbits solely around what’s best for the song, which is so rare in a business full of egos. Butch and this environment liberated and enabled me to work in a way that I never knew I was capable of.”

Although Ruby Red marks the start of something new, it doesn’t signify the end of Santo’s long run with HONEYHONEY. Santo will join bandmate Ben Jaffe in the television series The Guest Book, whose episodes feature the two musicians in acting and musical roles. The show premieres on TBS during the latter half of 2017, adding another bullet point to the acting career Santo launched years before HONEYHONEY’s formation.

Santo’s story is still unfolding. This is the newest chapter, bringing with it a track list that doubles down on the songwriter’s strengths and stretches her limits. There will be more chapters to explore. More colorful stories to tell. But for now, Suzanne Santo’s future is looking Ruby Red.

“This record is so fucking sexy, I can’t deal,” said Walker. “Proud to have been in the room when these songs were going down. Put it on and turn out the lights.”

 
Last call to dine in your seats in the Concert Hall will be 15 minutes before show time. Please arrive early if you plan to eat dinner in your seats. Table side beverage service will continue throughout the concert.