Aaron Watson on Playing the Houston Rodeo & Delaying His Album Because of Hurricane Harvey

Joseph Llanes
Aaron Watson

In their 1983 Hot Country Songs No. 1 "Houston (Means I'm One Day Closer To You)," Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers sang about "singing at the world's biggest rodeo show" – a reference to the iconic Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Watson feels the phrase sums up the city's biggest event so well that he borrowed the phrase in titling his new live album, Live At The World's Biggest Rodeo Show. Watson tells Billboard that if one has never experienced playing the event first-hand, they are truly missing out.

"I tell people that for a Texas artist playing the Houston Rodeo is like a golfer getting that green jacket. It's exactly like the Gatlin Brothers sing about. It was a wonderful night. I was surrounded by my wife, my kids, my mom and dad, lots of family, lots of friends and about 60,000 fans who have been supporting my career for a long time. It was one of those nights that you just never forget."

Unlike many rodeos – which might last for a day or two – Houston takes the term rodeo to a new level, lasting multiple weeks. Though he's a Texas native, and is very familiar with the event, he says he can't help but be overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the event. "It's just massive. It lasts for an entire month. For a straight month they bring in acts from all genres, and of course then there's the rodeo itself. I think the rodeo has one of the largest purses, and pays out of the largest sums of money. And then there's the livestock show, with all of the kids coming in showing their animals. Unless you've been there and you've witnessed it, it's hard to understand. The event does so many great things for the community and the youth throughout the state of Texas. I'm proud to be associated with it."

Being at the center of the event last year was something that Watson doesn't take lightly. Though he has worked tirelessly at establishing a presence outside of his native Lone Star State, he is quick to point out there's no crowd like a home crowd.

"I let everybody know wherever we go that I'm a Texas artist and I'm honored that I get to share my brand of country music with folks around the world. It was a bit of a homecoming for me. I think people have been concerned that I was going to get away from my Texas roots. But, I think we've shown them that you can't teach an old dog new tricks. I am what I am. I'm the product of being raised on Willie & Waylon, and my mom slapping me in the back of the head in church when I wasn't singing."

Watson stresses that he is mindful of the opportunities that he has been given – and he doesn't take a moment for granted. "I don't really have bucket list of things that I'd like to do. I just take every day for what it's worth, and appreciate all those blessings big or small," he says before stating that playing the Rodeo was far from an ordinary night.

"Playing the big stage at the rodeo was always right there one of those things that I kind of dreamed about. And, being the first independent artist to get it play that stage, that was a really big deal. I feel that kind of opened up the gateway for some of these other Texas boys to get up on that stage. It was a wonderful opportunity."

Watson can point to several career highlights in the past three years. His albums The Underdog and Vaquero both made No. 1 and No. 2 on the Country Albums listing, respectively, and he notched his first top ten last year with "Outta Style." He says the success has enabled him to grow his confidence a bit – and he's been able to do it his way.

"The freedom that I have owning my own record label is a great thing. I don't have guys wearing suits and ties telling me what I need to be doing. Instead of chasing after hits, man, we're chasing after hearts."

Watson originally intended to release the album last year – but with the city of Houston being hit by Hurricane Harvey, he didn't feel the timing was right. "It just didn't seem like the right thing to be putting out a live album Houston was going through such hardships and heartache," he said. "So, we pushed the pause button, and revisited the idea several months later, and decided to release the disc to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the storm – pledging to donate part of the proceeds from the album to the city. Even though it's long past making headlines, the city still aches from the storm's impact.

"When you have $125,000,000,000 in damages, 13,000,000 people affected across 41 Texas counties, that's going to take well over are decade for them to recover from such devastation. We called up the governor's office, as well as the Texas Music Office, and they're helping us out with this campaign. It's just a way for us to give back to all those fans and all the good things that the state of Texas has done for me, my music, and my family over the years, so it's just a real honor."

Watson is currently riding the wave of his second top 40 single on the Country Airplay chart with "Run Wild Horses." The video for the song was a personal one for him, as it featured his wife Kimberly. "I had so much fun filming the video. My wife is such a doll, but she's such a mom. She does not want anything to do with red carpets or bright lights. I told her 'I need you to be in this video.' We had some people write up some ideas for the video, and they had actors and actresses, and sexy car rides. I just thought it wasn't really where the song came from. So I kind of wrote the script myself. I think it turned out great, and I'm so glad she agreed to do it."