Recording Artist Watson Returns to C'ville Roots

Recording Artist Watson Returns to C'ville Roots
Journal Review
by Arnie Aurellano

Evan Watson is coming home.

Watson, a Crawfordsville native turned New York City resident, left Montgomery County in 2007 to chase his musical dreams,vcatching on with BMI award-winning songwriter Peter Zizzo to record a demo in Manhattan.

Now two years later, Wabash College will welcome Watson back on Dec. 18 for an 8 p.m. benefit concert at Salter Hall, aimed towards raising money for the Friends of Sugar Creek and co-sponsored by the Experience Indiana program. A $5 donation is suggested upon admission.

Watson returns as one of the county’s new favorite sons, coming off a successful performance at June’s 2009 Bonnaroo Music Festival that introduced him as one of music’s freshest blues voices. His debut album, “A Town Called Blue,” is currently available digitally on iTunes and Amazon and as a CD on his Web site,

“It’s exciting,” said Watson of the homecoming. “That’s where I grew up, not only Crawfordsville, but also around Wabash College. My dad (Dwight Watson) taught at Wabash, so I grew up surrounded by Wabash. I’m really looking forward to coming back.”

Watson said that returning to his Wabashroots holds an especially deep significance because his youth around the college served as his introduction to the musical spectrum.

“It was always interesting to grow up where I did, in this rural setting and at the same time, to have this kind of academic setting around me,” said Watson. “Growing up in a college community, I got to see a lot of acts when they came into town, even before Salter Hall was built.

“Back when they played in the chapel, I vaguely remember seeing Dizzy Gillespie and Tracy Chapman play, and then after Salter Hall was built, I saw Art Blakely and the Jazz Masters, bands like that. I was really fortunate to be exposed to a lot of music while I was there because of the college environment, and that definitely was a big influence on me.”

Of course, Watson added, his return to Crawfordsville adds a layer of meaning to him personally because of how much the sights and sounds of the county have informed his music.

“I was very much an outdoorsy person growing up,” recalled Watson. “I was an avid fly fisherman, standing out in Sugar Creek with my fishing pole all the time. I played football at Crawfordsville.”

Watson said that he often draws familiar images, emotions and themes from those memories as inspiration for his music, much like many other Indiana-born musicians from Michael Jackson to John Mellencamp to Scott Leonard of Rockapella.

There’s just something, Watson said, about being Hoosier-bred that doesn’t leave you, even if your life takes you elsewhere.

“One of the songs I’m recording right now is actually titled ‘Indiana,’” Watson said, laughing. “It’s especially small-town Indiana, Montgomery County, Crawfordsville. That just stays with you forever. It really does.

“I think it’s the juxtaposition. It’s because these artists travel away. You go to Nashville, you go to Los Angeles, you go to New York City to pursue music at a higher level. There’s this stark juxtaposition from where you’re from, and there’s definitely something missing. You have that emotion, that homesickness and nostalgia that really becomes clear.

“It’s almost like this: You step away from something and it really becomes solid. It becomes this static thing that you can hold on to and really see, like a painting. You can’t be in it to be able to write about it. You can’t be caught in the nucleus. It’s easier to look back.”

So what does Watson see when he looks back? What visions of Montgomery County are solid in his mind? What is it that he sees, hears, feels, and is moved by?

Two words, Watson said: Sugar Creek.

“I would say,” Watson said, “that no matter what I was doing, I was always really busy. Work, school, sports — I was always doing something, because that’s what I liked. I liked to stay busy.

“But there was always a moment where I could just wade in the water and everything slowed down. Everything was calm and still and quiet. It was this moment where I could just stand back and take it all in, and I loved that. It was pure.”

It’s that sense of purity that still resonates so deeply with Watson, so much that even when he’s in the city composing in his head, there’s a little spark now and then that brings him back to feeling that Sugar Creek silt wash between his toes.

“It’s the little ideas that are pure,” Watson said. “Like a riff. I’d be, I don’t know, washing dishes or something, and I’d just think of a riff, and suddenly, there’s that moment of purity all over again.
“I’m around a lot of musicians, and a lot of people write from a broad scale to a narrow scale. I’ve always been the opposite. I’m self-taught. I’m not schooled in music. I don’t know diminished scales — I go from my gut, and my gut is specific.

“So I’d start with maybe a fiddle riff, and I’m like, ‘That’s a song. What does that sound like? That sounds like, I don’t know...farming. What’s the rest of the song go like?’

“That’s what I go with. It’s not systematic or uniform. It’s very pure, very pointed, a very true sound.”

Perhaps that’s why this concert, a benefit for the Friends of Sugar Creek, is so big to Watson: It’s a way for him to give back to his wellspring of purity.

“Anything I can do to help Sugar Creek, you tell me and I’m there,” said Watson. “I spent a lot of time around Sugar Creek. I fished there a lot. I worked at Clement’s Canoes. It meant a lot to me growing up, and it means a lot to me now.”

Well, that and there is the little matter of his holiday homecoming.

“I’m very excited,” said Watson, with a tinge of earnest eagerness in his voice. “I’m a little nervous. It’s a different nervous than playing at Bonnaroo, but I’m nervous.

“Playing at Bonnaroo is a lot of cachet. It’s helped me out a lot, because it’s hard to get there, and once you do, people pay more respect to you musically. It was very meaningful to me. But this — this is coming home.

“Coming home is going to mean a lot to me. It’ll be a pretty solid mix of jitters and that ‘sitting by the fire in your living room having a beer’ kind of feeling. It’s a homecoming. There’s just nothing like it.”