Willie Watson will perform his “modern folk music rooted in older traditions” at 7 p.m. on Sunday at the Rusty Rail Brewing Company.
“We are proud to welcome back Willie Watson,” said John Rattie, programming/tech/advance for the Rusty Rail. “Willie is a folksinger in the classic sense: a singer, storyteller, and traveler, with a catalog of songs that bridge the gap between the past and present.”
A cofounder of Old Crow Medicine Show and touring partner with Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch, Watson made his acting debut in the Coen Brothers’ Netflix hit movie “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.” His voice can be heard with Tim Blake Nelson in the Oscar nominated song “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings.”
“I guess I was always drawn to music,” Watson said. “Maybe more so than other kids my age.”
He recalled making mixed tapes from radio songs when he was eight or nine years old and watching his dad sing along to music in the car.
“I saw that people get excited about music, so that’s where I learned it,” he said. “I was always wanting to do what I heard.”
While other kids were playing basketball, Watson was struck by the power of songs like Roy Orbison’s “You Got It.”
“I was like 10 years old, and I would walk around imitating Roy Orbison,” he said.
For almost the past two decades, Watson has travelled and sung his signature Southern gospel, railroad songs, Delta blues, Irish fiddle tunes and Appalachian music.
“It simply is fascinating to me that we are fortunate enough to get artists of this caliber to visit a small town in the middle of Pennsylvania,” Rattie said.
Watson talked about being onstage and feeling strongly about the old music even though he did not write it.
“I kind of go into another place with it,” he said. “Sometimes I wonder if people like the music or just want to join in on the spirit of how I’m feeling it.”
“I think the magic dust and secret sauce of any great artist is connection,” Rattie said. “For me, listening to Willie speaking through his own voice, breathing fresh air into older stories and messages, is like listening to a brother or a great friend having an honest chat with me about something important. He jumps in with two feet, and a whole heart. It’s honest, sincere … Impossible not to connect.”
Watson has had people approach him after a performance and tell him something changed in them or was healed after listening to his singing. On nights like that he feels the energy from the audience.
“When you can get a whole room doing that, it creates a certain power, a certain energy in the room that can bring people together,” he said. “On a good night, that can happen.”
With a repertoire of songs that express a range of experiences, Watson knows his show will touch people’s emotions.
“It can be heavy,” he said. “We’ll run through all the emotions. We’ll do it. We’ll be happy, we’ll be sad. We’ll feel heartbreak and true love, loss and elation. It’ll all be there.”