As he enters his 25th year as a recording artist, Dale Watson's balancing his busy touring schedule with more than just the seventh annual Ameripolitan Music Awards, hosted Feb. 21-24 in Memphis, Tennessee. He's also keeping a piece of Memphis history alive as owner of a famous spot in rockabilly and traditional country lore, Hernando's Hideaway.
Watson, a native of Alabama who's been associated for years with the Austin, Texas scene, founded the Ameripolitan awards show to honor artists more beholden to Western swing, honky-tonk, outlaw country and early rock 'n' roll than many of the current acts classified as Americana.
"At first, they were saying, you fall under our umbrella as far as the music," Watson says of Americana. "I said, 'No, we're getting wet because we're not getting any kind of love over here.' I like the Americana format, and I like what it does. I tell people Americana is more original music with prominent folk and rock influence. Ameripolitan is more prominent roots influence. Americana starts with Woody Guthrie, in my opinion."
By promoting his own subgenre, Watson makes sure artists ranging from veteran performer Junior Brown to such younger nominees as Charley Crockett and Sarah Vista know there's a live music and record-buying audience willing to plan a destination weekend around the Ameripolitan sound.
"I went to Nashville and got my deal, and the first thing they said was, 'Dale, we love what you do. Now change and do this'," Watson says. "With Ameripolitan, we're saying, 'We love what you do, and don't change it.'"
This year's Ameripolitan attendees get to see Watson's reopened and refurbished Hernando's Hideaway: A spot in Jerry Lee Lewis lore and the latest addition to Memphis nightlife.
"Elvis played there and all these guys, and it was pretty much a Memphis roadhouse back in the day," Watson says. "It was in pretty bad disrepair, but I just made an offer to the guy not thinking he'd take it. He took it, so there I was, stuck with a bar."
The purchase saved Hernando's Hideaway from meeting the same fate as historic buildings in places like Atlanta and Nashville.
"They actually embrace their history here in Memphis and do what they can to preserve some of the iconic, historical places having to do with the music and the heritage," Watson adds. "Coming from Austin where everything's getting torn down or replaced, it's a nice change."
Once the Ameripolitan dust settles, Watson will start plotting an April trip to the studio with Dan Auerbach: Someone who's already gotten the best out of John Anderson and won plenty of adoration from Americana audiences.