Aaron Watson – Tickets – The Sinclair – Cambridge, MA – February 28th, 2018
TX Independence Celebration
Jack Ingram, Ryan Beaver
Wed, February 28, 2018
Doors: 7:30 pm / Show: 8:15 pmThe Sinclair
$27.50 advance / $30 day of show
This event is 18 and over
The Sinclair is general admission standing room only. Tickets available at AXS.COM, or by phone at 855-482-2090. No service charge on tickets purchased in person at The Sinclair Box office Wednesdays-Saturdays 12-7PM.https://www.sinclaircambridge.com/event/1610403/
Watson remains strikingly similar to the people that still dot his native West Texas. They’re a rugged people, proud of home but humble and hardworking, the first to help a neighbor but also fiercely independent. And Watson is unquestionably one of them.
“I’ve always considered myself an anti-rock star,” Watson says, his drawl cracking slightly as he grins. “People don’t like me because I’m a rock star. People like me because I’m just like them.”
Throughout his 17-year career that spans a dozen albums and more than 2,500 shows throughout the U.S. and Europe, 39-year-old Watson has stubbornly and sincerely identified with the everyman––even as he’s proven to be the exception to the rule.
The latest evidence of Watson’s homespun singularity is Vaquero, an ambitious 16-song set of character-driven storytelling, level-headed cultural commentary, and love songs for grown- ups that promise to further solidify his status as one of today’s finest torch-bearers of real country music.
Vaquero is the follow-up to 2015’s The Underdog, an acclaimed collection that also made history. Watson was sitting at his kitchen table as his wife Kim scrambled eggs when he got the call: The Underdog had debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Country Albums Chart. It was the first time an independent, male country artist had ever outsold majors to premiere at the top spot. “We started jumping around and squealing like kids,” he says. “It was a beautiful moment because I got to share it with the girl who believed in me when I was broke and playing some pawnshop guitar. It is something I’ll never forget.” That momentous instant also arrived with a built-in challenge. “Once we dried the tears of joy, it hit me,” Watson says. “I had my work cut out for me for my next album.”
Determined, Watson committed to waking up every morning before the sun rose to write songs on that same old pawnshop guitar he scored 20 years ago. “I bet you I couldn’t get $50 for that guitar,” he says. “But it means the world to me.” He penned songs in the back of a bus on the highway, too, as the band spent the last two years playing more than 35 states and six countries.
The result is Vaquero, a bold album that confidently draws from Texas’ storied musical melting pot: dancehall shuffles, dustbowl narratives, Tejano, and more fill the record.
In writing the new album, Watson felt especially drawn to the idea of the vaquero, the original Spanish horseman that set the foundation for the North American cowboy, a solitary figure
with a legendary work ethic. Watson is a modern-day vaquero––he just gets up at 5 a.m. to wrangle songs instead of cattle. And while he won’t deny the pressure he felt following his last album’s success, outside barometers can’t compel him to change who he is or what he writes. Watson is Watson, chart-topping record or not.
“This is the first album I’ve ever made where if it’s the last album I ever make, I could be content with that,” Watson says of Vaquero.
One listen and it’s easy to understand why. Album opener “Texas Lullaby” pays lilting homage both to home and to the bravery of the young heroes fighting wars. Deep connections to place and family course throughout the record. Sing-along “These Old Boots Have Roots” celebrates new love by offering promises grounded in the honor and grace of past generations. A fiddle accents Watson’s lines playfully then escalates to a hopeful roar.
Romance is a central theme of the album, but Watson isn’t interested in adding to the steady stream of hook-up anthems coming out of Music Row. Watson’s love songs are celebrations of monogamy and the bonds that only time, mutual respect, and persistence can build. The swinging, fiddle-soaked “Take You Home Tonight” anticipates a steamy night in, while “Run Wild Horses” is a passionate ode to lovemaking featuring a standout vocal performance from Watson, whose laid-back croon lets loose and soars. Infectious first single “Outta Style” and shuffling “Be My Girl Tonight” both praise staying power and explore how to protect it.
Watson revels in another kind of love on the album closer, “Diamonds & Daughters.” Two years ago, his then four-year-old daughter asked him to write her a song for his next record. “I thought it sure would be special if I could write her a song right now that we could dance to at her wedding someday,” he says. That’s exactly what he did. A tender look at the past, present, and future, the song will undoubtedly touch every parent and daughter who hears it.
The title track is an accordion-fueled joy, buoyed by Watson’s delivery of life lessons courtesy of an old vaquero sitting alone at a bar. “Mariano’s Dream” and “Clear Isabel” are companion pieces, placed back-to-back to stunning cinematic effect. Plaintive instrumental “Mariano’s Dream” kicks off the experience, haunting and sad as an acoustic guitar carries listeners through a lush Tex-Mex soundscape. The song then segues into “Clear Isabel,” and listeners soon discover the Mariano named in the previous track is father to Isabel. A story of sacrifice and heartbreak, “Clear Isabel” imbues the souls who choose to cross a river in search of safety with the dignity and beauty they deserve. “It’s one of my favorite moments on the record,” Watson says. “I feel like if I could play Guy Clark that song, he’d smile.”
“They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To” begins as warm nostalgia, and other comforts before intensifying into no mere stroll down memory lane, but an increasingly indignant rant, capturing the hurt and anger of a country that’s currently reeling politically and socially. “I think it might be the best song I’ve ever written,” Watson says.
Refusing to worry about charts or current trends, Watson hopes the main thing Vaquero accomplishes is bringing his growing legion of fans joy. And no matter what happens next, he is anchored and ready. “It doesn’t really matter whether I’m playing a dancehall in Texas or a stadium tour around the world, I’m just me,” he says. “I won’t change. I’m just too rooted in what I believe in. When you’ve played for such a long time to nobody, now that there’s somebody, you really don’t take that for granted.
But the award did mean that Ingram, after trials and setbacks that would have buckled other artists, had at last matched the commercial success he’d always wanted with the integrity on which he’d always insisted. So he told the crowd with no small measure of pride and triumph that night that “big dreams and high hopes” can come true.
Now, as if to validate and amplify that truth, Ingram remains in the forefront of country music with the album Big Dreams & High Hopes, the seventh studio disc of his career and his third for Nashville maverick indie label Big Machine Records. Its eleven tracks range through the many facets of Ingram’s unique take on country music and songwriting. There’s the textured and contemplative “Seeing Stars” sung in ethereal tandem with Patty Griffin. You’ll find a couple of superb roots rocking country songs Jack wrote with compadre and mentor Radney Foster. And you’ve probably already heard the swimming hole party anthem “Barefoot and Crazy” which quickly became a radio smash and a soundtrack for the hot summer of 2009.
Ingram says the album’s intimate title track came from a conversation “about lasting through a bunch of BS and finding success at the time I did. At one point I said, ‘Well, I had my guitar and big dreams and high hopes,’ and that just kind of rung a bell. The song that came out of that basically talks about having this wanderlust to go out and take my music on the road like my heroes did – dreaming about it and chasing it down.”
That journey began in Houston, Texas, where Ingram grew up. His first stage experience came not through music but a drama class he took to fulfill a requirement his senior year of high school. It wasn’t his calling, but it was a rush.
“All of a sudden there was this pressure and this element of having to deliver right now in front of a crowd, and if you don’t you fall on your ass,” he says. “And that got me.” During college at Southern Methodist University, he applied that challenge to music for the first time, starting at an open mic night with two Willie Nelson songs learned out of a song book and one original tune.
It didn’t take long for the charismatic Ingram and his Beat Up Ford Band to pack the bars of Dallas and Houston, but he was acutely aware that having come of age idolizing icons like Billy Joe Shaver, Jerry Jeff Walker, Guy Clark and Robert Earl Keen, that he had a lot of learning and growing to do.
“I knew what I was doing was not sounding the way it was sounding in my head, so I was very unsatisfied,” Ingram remembers. “My heroes were the best.”
So with his vision clearly set, Ingram gradually built a reputation as a smart songwriter and a can’t-miss live performer. Nashville’s Rising Tide label signed him, re-issuing his first two independent albums, a live disc, and 1997’s Livin’ or Dyin’. When Rising Tide went out of business, Ingram found a home at Sony’s boutique Lucky Dog label, where, in what became something of a pattern, he was admired by music writers and country connoisseurs but he struggled to connect on country radio. He also felt unfairly typecast as a member of an “insurgent” country movement.
“Coming from Texas and me trying to have my own identity may have come off as anti-establishment or Texas versus Nashville. But that was a misconception. I wanted to be right where I am right now. Twenty in the game, on the big stage.”
But things had to get worse before they got better.
“I lost my record deal with Sony,” he says. “I lost a management deal. I was in this place where I didn’t know what was going to happen. I had a kid who was one year old. I really didn’t have a career to speak of at the time.”
And from that difficult place, he wrote “In The Corner,” one of the best songs of his career, an “open letter” he calls it now, to a music industry where he’d sought only support in being who he was rather than someone he wasn’t.
Yeah, he’s just another young cynic
We get them all the time.
If he just knew how to channel
All that anger he’d be fine”.
So I sit with all these wishes and dreams dying on the vine
Knowing I could make you happy for a minute with a lie.
The song is the final track on Big Dreams & High Hopes, and those lyrics make what happened next all the more remarkable. Jack Ingram met Scott Borchetta, a veteran country record promoter who’d launched his own label Big Machine Records. In an industry and genre where outsider labels have had an almost impossible time building hit-making careers, Big Machine took a chance on Jack, and equally Jack took a chance on one of those independent label. The new label worked with more dedication and patience than Ingram had ever seen to find the song that would break through. It was “Wherever You Are,” the first single of his career to reach Number One.
“I spent YEARS trying to figure out what I was doing wrong,” says Ingram. “Why is this not working? How do I need to change? And finally you get with the right people, and you go, ‘I don’t need to change anything. I just need to show up and do the job.’ All I had to do was be myself.”
The album Wherever You Are, a mostly live project, was followed by 2008’s This Is It and now Big Dreams & High Hopes. Already the new album has produced the top twenty single “That’s A Man.” And “Barefoot and Crazy” appears poised for a whole lot more airplay. But this is far more than a repository of a few hit singles. The album kicks off with “Free,” a breezy and uplifting embrace of the finer non-material things in life. Ingram worked with Jeffrey Steele and Tom Hambridge to write the swaying and satisfying “Not Giving Up On Me” with its large chorus drenched with steel guitar and gratitude to a supportive lover. And people will surely talk about Ingram’s intense, refreshed version of “Barbie Doll,” probably the most popular song from his live show, recorded here in a fantastic, wise-ass duet with Dierks Bentley.
In a time when the music industry tries so hard to jam new artists up to the top of the charts before they’re ready, only to so often see them plummet back to earth, Ingram’s rise has been slow and steady, fueled by dreams and hopes for sure, but more substantially by high standards and the ambition for a career measured in decades and influence rather than chart position. He’s in the best place he’s ever been and it’s clear from a few listens to Big Dreams & High Hopes that confidence is bolstering his artistry.
52 Church St
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