BRISTOL, Tenn./Va.– Oh, say can you see.
In broad strokes with bright songs, country veteran Dale Watson recently unfurled a new flag that heralds the roots of country music carried forth.
So step aside so-called country music and make welcome Ameripolitan music.
To Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion Watson waved the honk and tonk of the Ameripolitan flag on Saturday afternoon at the State Street Stage. Labeled the Ameripolitan Review, the Grand Ole Opry-styled show featured Watson as the headliner along with traditional country singer Amber Digby and renowned singer-songwriter Roger Alan Wade.
“This is going to be a great night,” said Ed Stout, longtime Rhythm & Roots official and emcee for the show.
First came a meeting of the minds. Wade walked to Watson’s bus, climbed aboard and grabbed a seat.
“Where can I go to get a cocktail?” asked Wade.
Watson offered a cold Lone Star beer. Nope. Then he reached into a cabinet and presented a bottle of Texas-born bourbon, Garrison Brothers.
“At $95 a bottle,” said Watson, “that’s the good stuff.”
Wade took a small sip and smiled a smile as wide as the Bristol sign.
“The Garrison Brothers must have been kin to the Wright Brothers,” Wade said. “That is special!”
Watson handed a guitar to Wade. They needed to run through Wade’s song, “Big Ass Happy Family,” which they would perform as a duet on the show. Wade sang a verse and the chorus and another verse. Watson chimed in on the repeat of the chorus. Once then twice and that was it.
Twenty minutes before show time, Watson turned and walked to the back of his bus to change clothes. Wade turned philosophical.
“You’ve got to have Mozart and the Beatles, Hank Williams,” Wade said. “But we sure owe great thanks to A.P. Carter for going up into those hollers and finding ‘Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow’ and ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken’ and ‘Keep On the Sunny Side.’ ”
As within the lyrics that enliven his songs, Wade spoke like Hank Williams sang — with body and soul.
“Growing up in East Tennessee, the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers were my main inspiration for why I got into music and why I’m still doing it 50 years later,” Wade said. “Those cats were Ameripolitan in their day.”
Dressed in Johnny Cash black from his coat to his boots, Watson stepped up.
“It started with Jimmie Rodgers,” Watson said of Ameripolitan.
Moments later Watson and Wade eased out of the bus and walked backstage. Rhythm & Roots’ Ed Stout aptly greeted them with warmth, as one would royalty.
“We’re just tickled to death to have Dale Watson back at Rhythm & Roots,” Stout said. “He’s the real thing.”
Watson climbed on stage. The crowd morphed from the whispering kind to the whoop ‘n’ wailing kind as Watson delivered in kind with “A Real Country Song.”
Wade then joined Watson to peel the red off Bristol’s bricks via the raucous “Big Ass Happy Family.” The next 20 minutes belonged to Wade.
Wade’s songs sparkled like the shine on Porter Wagoner’s Nudie suits.
From a funny “If You’re Gonna Be Dumb, You Gotta Be Tough” to a poignant “The First Time I Saw Waylon,” Wade leaned into the microphone and climbed into the hearts and minds of those on hand fortunate enough to witness the wonder.
Oh, the sound! Hell hath no fury to compare with the power and the passion of a Roger Alan Wade song. Take his narrowed to the nub of a nerve “Johnny Cash has Died.” Wade sang like a tear falls. He clenched his eyes, opened his heart and graced everyone with beauty as pure as an Anita Carter smile.
In the sense of that which is evocative, Wade writes like Faulkner and sings like Cash. He’s Williams on one hand, Johnny on another and purely legendary as Roger Alan Wade.
Speaking of Cash, Watson then joined Digby for a riveting “Jackson.” Digby followed with a slate of hardcore, steel-guitar-soaked country songs hewn in an Ameripolitan key. Best among the lot, Johnny Paycheck’s stone country “If I’m Gonna Sink (I Might As Well Go to the Bottom).”
Watson capped the night with a dozen or so Fender Telecaster twanging tunes. From a beer-bathed “I Lie When I Drink” to a new freight-hauling truck-driving song “Suicide Sam,” Watson crowned his Ameripolitan Review with pure country gold.
And a nod to the Birthplace of Country Music. Between songs, Watson pointed to his left.
“It was invented right over there,” Watson said while speaking of Ameripolitan music, the precociously kicking brand-new baby as birthed by authentic country music.
Show over, into the night flew the flag as hoisted by Watson, Digby and Wade. Proudly, Watson and company hailed the dawning of a new country style that’s rooted to a vintage country sound.
“It’s Ameripolitan, baby,” Watson said.
Tom Netherland is a freelance writer. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.