Let’s start with this: Line-dancing is the scourge of humanity.
So imagine my horror when I arrived at Rockin’ Rodeo at The Stoney Inn to discover that it was… a line-dancing venue. The choreographed boot-scooting and heel-slapping commenced shortly after I arrived. Line-dancing is a bit entertaining for the first song or two, if only for the novelty of seeing the ’80s and ’90s brought back to life in all their embarrassing splendor.
But its novelty fades quickly. And on this Saturday night, the dancing continued for most of the show, long overstaying its welcome: right through the first act, a decent local bar band called the Crossman Connection; right through the break; right through the second act, a guy named Tim Murphy who had a pretty good voice but a distractingly frantic stage presence (standing on speakers, jumping into the crowd, singing from on top of the bar) that seemed like every over-caffeinated karaoke singer’s dream.
No joke, friends: hours of line-dancing. If not for the drunk guy who went spinning out onto the dance floor like a top, weaving between the dancers and impeding their choreography, it would have been unbearable. Thanks to that guy for at least keeping things interesting… until a bulky bouncer politely asked him to stay off the dance floor. Aww, man. Drunk or not, the guy just wanted his chance to shine.
The dancing mercifully stopped when headliner Aaron Watson took the stage, with people crowding the dance floor for a better view of the Texan’s first-ever Sacramento show. Watson played Strait to Tim Murphy’s Chesney, mostly subscribing to a ‘stand and sing’ style that felt like a welcome reprieve from all the hustle and bustle of a Saturday night in a cosmopolitan cowboy hotspot. With an unaffected charm and an easy smile, Watson came across as a nice guy with a proficient band (teenage fiddle ace Damian Green took multiple solos) and a back pocket full of sturdy traditional numbers like “Shut Up and Dance,” “Barbed Wire Halo,” and “Honky Tonkin’ Around Texas” that seem custom-made for barroom singalongs.
Perhaps it was the live energy. Perhaps it was the fact that Watson’s set was essentially a Best Of, culling most of the best songs from his albums while leaving behind some of the less interesting cuts. But the Aaron Watson that appeared at Rockin’ Rodeo was one that I haven’t heard on record yet. Not even the Live at the Texas Hall of Fame recording put out a few years back captures the live show. This is clearly a guy who has honed his chops on the road and feels more at home onstage than just about anywhere else. You can try to put that down on record, but it won’t be the same. See him live if you get the chance.
Watson was also exceedingly generous, offering everyone in attendance a free CD from the merchandise table (on a $12 cover charge) and promising to stay around afterwards to sign and chat until the venue shut down . He presumably made good on both of those promises, but with the show ending well after midnight, I had to hightail it out of there as soon as the last song was sung; I wanted to make it to church the next morning so as to cleanse all that line-dancing from my soul. By the time I left, Watson had already gone a long way toward making good on his promise to “make friends, not fans” on his hurried swing through California. He’ll be back in this area in September for what will hopefully be the second of many trips to come. His new friends will be waiting.