Willie Watson Sells Out Rough Trade NYC on Friday Night

January 12th, 2015

Willie Watson – Rough Trade NYC – January 9, 2015

Sellouts are always special, but there was something even more rewarding about the packed house for Friday’s Rough Trade NYC bill. That a guy like Willie Watson with a guitar and a banjo, playing a set of songs that had been around longer than everyone in attendance had been alive—numbers that felt older than dirt—could draw such a large, spirited crowd to Williamsburg was emblematic of something. It said something about the timelessness of the music, of course, the folk tradition that will outlive us all, but it was also indicative of the guy playing them: He looked the part and sounded the part. Watson doesn’t just play these songs, he breathes life into them.

Following a raucous, raunchy, keep-your-eye-out-for-this-one opening set from Elle King, Watson took the stage, banjo in hand, wearing a denim shirt and jeans and a hat that added the perfect look to the sounds he was about to make. He opened with a one-two hootenanny of “Georgia Buck” and “Free Little Bird,” which put him in league with Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson respectively. The audience was transported, stomping the floor in time, evoking a barn dance more than a rock club.

Watson pulled some of the songs from last year’s Folk Singer Vol. 1, but mostly he seemed to be reaching back in time, the entire Americana songbook at his disposal. Highlights included Blind Willie McTell’s “Rollin’ Mama Blues” with some nice hand-shucked guitar picking, and an excellent version of a “new one,” Reverend Gary Davis’s “I Belong to the Band, Hallelujah.” Wrapping up a stellar night of singing and dancing, Watson capped the set with Lead Belly’s “Midnight Special” before an encore of traditionals, “Good Old Mountain Dew” and “On the Road Again.” You get the impression that a campfire, a bottle of whiskey, Willie Watson and his guitar would be just about a perfect Friday night. Who knows? He might even be able to sell out a gig like that. —A. Stein | @Neddyo