Willie Watson

Ages 16 and up
Saturday, November 16
Doors: 7pm Show: 8pm
Globe Hall Presents Willie Watson on Saturday, November 16th.
Soon before Willie Watson turned 18, he met God in an apple orchard. Or at the very least, he met there a man named Ruby Love, the older friend of a high-school buddy who had an enormous Martin guitar and a seemingly bigger understanding of the American folk songbook. Watson was existentially thirsty: A high-school dropout from upstate New York’s Finger Lakes, he was fast on his way to his first heartbreak and in a first band that didn’t take itself seriously enough. But that night in an apple orchard that had always seemed magical, at a graduation party for one of his bandmates and best friends, Watson and Love sang a few of those old songs together—“Worried Man Blues” and “Tennessee Waltz.” It was the first time Watson had cried while singing, the first time he had made the connection between making music and making sense of his life. He never saw Ruby Love again, but within months of that foundational 1997 rendezvous, he met the musicians with whom he’d soon start Old Crow Medicine Show. Call it revelation, fate, resurrection, whatever you will; for Watson, more than a quarter-century later, it was a duet with the divine.
As told in the talking-gospel masterpiece “Reap ’em in the Valley,” that scene is the transfixing finale of Watson’s self-titled debut as a songwriter and as a human at last making music to make sense of his life. Yes, Watson has released two albums since he left Old Crow Medicine Show a dozen years ago and since his long-term collaborations with David Rawlings and Gillian Welch. But those records, both titled Folk Singer, were sets of tunes he knew, interpretations of the songbook he has diligently mined since even before that night in the apple orchard. At 44, however, he feels that Willie Watson is his first-ever true album, having finally lived and lost and simply witnessed enough to know he has something to sing with his exquisite rural tenor. Watson has not abandoned those old songs entirely. He dazzles during a robust take on the forever-curious “Mole in the Ground” and treats “Harris and the Mare,” the standard of tragic Canadian singer Stan Rogers, with total tenderness. But by and large, these are his stories of heartbreak and hurt, backlit by the corona of hope that only growth can provide.
These days, Watson looks askance at his old reputation and knows other people do, too. “‘I thought you were just some nice little singer who sang in the little fucking cowboy hat,’” he deadpans, characterizing the perception he knows he has in many ways courted. And he recognizes that people probably don’t think he can write his own songs of meaning and depth, since he spent so long reworking those of others. For a long time, he bought that, too. But the hat is off, as is the desire to be a mere entertainer or interpreter. The nine songs on Willie Watson find a bona fide songwriter dealing with the difficulties of his past to suggest a renewed future; what’s more, he uses his keen and expansive understanding of an old lexicon to add his own new entries to it. As with the best folk songs, you will recognize your own burdens here. As with the best folk singers, you will feel compelled to sound them out, too. Who knows, maybe you’ll even meet God in an apple orchard.

– 16+, under 16 admitted with a ticketed parent or guardian
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