Fans of Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash and Sturgill Simpson are in for a treat at this weekend's 75th annual National Folk Festival being held for the first time in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina.
The free outdoor event features performances and demonstrations on seven outdoor stages by more than 30-plus groups of the nation's craftspeople, dancers and musicians, including headliner country music maverick Dale Watson, who is set to perform his unique mix of Texas swing, rockabilly and honky tonk tunes for the first time in the Piedmont Triad tonight, Saturday and twice on Sunday afternoon. Other headliners include Greensboro native Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Chicago native and gospel R&B legend Mavis Staples.
But don't confuse Watson's music with the music Nashville is trying to sell as country today.
"You can easily guess who my influences are listening to my music, " he said in a recent phone interview. "Today's country influences come from boy bands. They have more in common with Madonna."
Back in 1995, Watson recorded a song bemoaning the state of modern country music. "I'm too country now for country, " he declared and that hasn't changed. Listen to his newest album, "Call Me Insane, " and you'll find Watson's aversion to mainstream country may be even stronger today than it was 20 years ago. Instead he calls his brand of music "Ameripolitan" as opposed to "alt-country" or Americana, which is too broad and doesn't really mean anything these days except that you are playing music in America.
Following are a few questions with the Austin Music Hall of Fame member about the National Folk Festival, the meaning of "Ameripolitan" and which former late-night talk show host is a fan.
Why do you think the National Folk Festival invited you to perform?
"I think we fit in for the simple reason of the type of music we do. Twenty or 30 years ago the type of music we do would have been called country, but you can't call us country by today's standards. You can easily guess who my influences are listening to my music."
What exactly is "Ameripolitan" music?
"If I am at a truck stop and I say, Ameripolitan, that's good. I used to say country music and then I would have to qualify what it's NOT what you're thinking. And if you say it's a retro thing then it's automatically dismissed as old. A good comparison is we're building a house and we're using a hammer. Just because we're not using new tools, doesn't mean it's not a new house. But it will probably stand up better. Ameripolitan is original music with prominent roots that start with Jimmy Rodgers, Hank Williams and Ernest Tubb."
Why did you want to participate in the 75th annual National Folk Festival?
"I think the folk festival focuses on the musical fabric of our nation and what derived from Africa and other countries. Ameripolitan certainly fits in that because of the roots element. I am not comparing myself to Hank Williams, but my music is a natural extension. We fit because our influences fit."
Why should festival attendees come out to see you?
"I think the most common comment I get is this reminds me of music my dad listened to and I heard growing up. People like David Letterman like it. We are also attracting a lot of younger fans. I hope people will come and hear us to learn that country music is alive and well as Ameripolitan music."