[HOUSTON PRESS] Aaron Watson Opens RodeoHouston as the Underdog That Roared

As country music’s most unlikely, and likable, newly minted star, the only real danger Aaron Watson is likely to face on the road ahead is letting his biography overshadow his material. Luckily for him, both sides of the ledger are pretty compelling: Once rejected by Nashville for his lack of “commercial appeal,” as he told Tuesday’s RodeoHouston crowd in his debut on the revolving stage, Watson retreated to his native Texas, where he played gig after gig until 2015’s The Underdog became the first independently released album by a solo male artist to top Billboard’s Country Albums chart. He’s back there this week with new LP Vaquero, still without a label or major distribution deal, only kept out of the top spot this time by the mighty Little Big Town.

Seriously, the people who made Friday Night Lights — either the film or the series — ought to think about commissioning a screenplay on this guy. Watson is a red-state archetype without the ungainly political baggage: a happily married father of three who stands tall for faith, family and first responders. (It really was First Responders Day at the rodeo, made all the more poignant by the passing of Houston Fire Department Captain "Iron Bill" Dowling a few hours before Watson took the stage.) Watson, too, has seen real tragedy in his life, losing a daughter at a young age, the genesis of The Underdog’s “Bluebonnets (Julia’s Song).” Artists like him aren’t necessarily supposed to be successful in 2017; the world has long grown too cynical, or so we are led to believe.

And yet the reason Aaron Watson sells records is not because of his backstory, or at least not completely. Trends come and go within country music, all too often at the expense of art, but somehow real and honest songwriting endures; the connection a song like “Bluebonnets” forges with an audience, whether instantly or long-term, is simply impossible to manufacture. Tuesday, Watson told the crowd he wasn’t sure he could get through it without breaking down, but rather than tears, the only thing it provoked was the firefly effect seen in thousands of smartphone lights.

Yet as goosebumpy as it was, to single out the most emotional moment of Watson’s set would not be entirely fair to the rest of the songs, because in the dizzying amount of territory he covered in about 45 minutes, nothing felt anything less than 100 percent authentic. Other songs touched on rodeo life (“God Loves Cowboys”), disabled veterans like his dad (“Raise Your Bottle”) and windows-down summertime highway music (“Outta Style”). If that last one is not blaring from every pickup from Watson's hometown of Amarillo to the shores of Lake Ontario two months from now, there really is no hope for commercial country radio.

Read the full interview at houstonpress.com