Aaron Watson on Returning to the Stage: ‘I Can’t Control the Fans’
That Aaron Watson has been productive at home during the coronavirus quarantine shouldn't surprise anyone. The Texas-bred independent stalwart is prolific even when he needs to take songwriting breaks to tour. Now, he doesn't have any distractions.
"I’m going to have songs for years after this," he tells The Boot's partner site Taste of Country during a phone call from his Buffalo Gap, Texas, home. The little mid-Texas nub of a town sits between two others with a combined population of just over a thousand people, meaning that Watson's chance of catching the virus when he leaves his 400-acre ranch is is slightly higher than his chance of catching a snowflake. But he still worries.
Two close friends and their families caught a mild case of the coronavirus, Watson reveals. His CPA has had two family members die after contracting it. Watson's kids mask up for summer camps, and with school approaching, he's very concerned about the logistics for teaching his brood virtually, if that's what it comes down to.
Professionally, he's embraced Cameo and private Zoom concerts professionally. “For me, I had years and years of playing to nobody,” Watson cracks, and he's not joking. His first radio "hit" ("Outta Style" in 2017) came 18 years after his career began.
He's optimistic, but realistic about the future of live music — a necessity for him and artists like him with families to feed.
It's a difficult situation, the 42-year-old "Whisper Your Name" singer says, so he's sympathetic to someone like Chase Rice, who was lambasted after playing a less-than-socially-distanced concert in Tennessee last month.
“The truth is, we live in a very funny day and age where one second people are telling people to respect others and their rights, and then the next second if you don’t like what someone chooses to do you, run them down," Watson says after bringing up Rice. "I know even some other country music artists kind of ran him down, but here’s the fact: One of the girls that ran him down — like, I’m a big fan of her. I won’t name names, but I’m a big fan of her because I have a 10-year-old daughter who’s a big fan of her, so I’m literally learning how to play her songs because my daughter is making me — but I played a show a week before Chase played his show, and there was supposed to be social distancing, but the people there chose not to do that."
It's the situation every artist is going to face in 2020 if they choose to play live shows with fans. What do you do? Granger Smith says he'll walk offstage if fans aren't giving each other space. The industry is working with venues and promoters to take every step possible to spread fans out, but at the end of the day, you could get someone crashing a stage and coughing on a performer, as happened to Clayton Gardner in Irving, Texas, on July 17.
"I can’t control the fans," Watson — who has six shows on his touring calendar before August ends — says. "It’s not my fault if I play a show and somebody hits on somebody’s girlfriend and starts a bar fight. It's not my fault. But I am going to try to, just like I do, control the mood or a room and keep things positive. I think I’m going to do the same thing onstage."
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Watson will ask his fans not to go crazy at the front of the stage like they normally do, but at a certain point, he's just going to forge ahead and play the favorites, plus some of the new material he's been working on since February.
The upbeat love song "Whisper Your Name" is one of 10 songs Watson recorded in Nashville the week after tornadoes tore through Middle Tennessee. He had plans to cut three or four more later for an album he says is called American Soul that will be out in January, but the coronavirus squashed those plans, so he's been singing his vocals into a high-end microphone stationed in his wife's closet. Expect another album steeped in country tradition, but less aimed at hit radio songs.
"With Red Bandana (2019), rather than chase after something that you can't catch [that is, radio airplay], I'm just going to focus on my art, focus on making a great product for the fans," he says. "That was fun. I think I'm going a little bit different route with American Soul. I think I'm shooting right down the middle, just making some good ol' country music."
Someday fans will get to hear it in close proximity to one another.
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