Ameripolitan Movement

Dale Watson's crusade to save country music gains ground

Dale Watson's crusade to save country music gains ground

Dale Watson at Ginny's Little Longhorn
Dale Watson's on a crusade to save country music.  Photo courtesy of ACVB

A musical movement is gaining momentum thanks in large part to Austin-based honky-tonker Dale Watson. Watson has spent the last two years helping fuel the fire behind a new genre that gives a home — and a face — to the music he loves most.

The word "Ameripolitan," coined by Watson, describes four roots music sub-genres that he feels need help to be preserved: honky-tonk, western swing, rockabilly and outlaw.

In an age when many artists are working hard to blur the lines between genres, Watson thinks it’s important to keep things where they belong. “You gotta have categories,” he says. “I love categories. I mean if you didn’t have categories you’d go to the grocery store and anything could be anywhere. You need categories if you really want to find what you like and enjoy it.”

Watson’s desire to preserve music that doesn’t fit into today’s country category heightened in 2013 after Blake Shelton controversially remarked that modern country audiences don't want to listen to "their Grandpa’s music" (Shelton recoiled after a response from Ray Price). Moved by Price's words and determined to elevate the value of "real" country music, Watson dedicated himself to creating the first ever Ameripolitan Music Awards. 

In the two short years since the idea struck him, Watson says the appeal of Ameripolitan, both to artists and music fans, has grown. There was an Ameripolitan festival in Croatia last summer, radio stations have added Ameripolitan music hours, and there are Ameripolitan showcases popping up at music events around the country — including at this year’s SXSW. 

“It’s a slow thing. I don’t expect it to grow overnight but it’s growing by leaps and bounds. It gives all of these people who were kind of misplaced out in the desert a place to go,” says Watson.  

It’s those very artists who will be honored on February 17 at the second annual Ameripolitan Music Awards at the Paramount Theatre. Some of the nominated artists who will perform include Jason D. Williams, The Derailers, James Hand, The Cactus Blossoms and The Western Swing Authority. Local stalwarts Ray Benson, Earl Poole Ball, Redd Volkaert and Dale Watson will also take the stage.

Two legendary performers, Billy Joe Shaver and James Burton, will be given “Founder of the Sound” awards. “[Shaver] single-handedly wrote probably the most quintessential outlaw album ever,” Watson says. “He was a vital part of the whole outlaw movement and still is.”

Master of the Telecaster James Burton, who led Elvis Presley’s TCB band, is known for changing the way an electric guitar is strung and creating one of the most imitated telecaster sounds in the world. 

In just its second year, this fan-determined awards show includes a who’s who of Ameripolitan music. Watson is excited to see what was once just an idea sprout wings and gain momentum.

“It’s growing and it's growing fast, and people realize they do have a home ... it just gives you a good feeling to know that you belong somewhere," he says. “It’s the roots of country music — we’re just replanting it.”  

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Go to austintheatre.org for ticket information.