Dale Watson and His Lonestars: Live at the Big T Roadhouse, Chicken S#!+ Bingo
Longtime Texas honky-tonker brings his tunes to life in a rowdy roadhouse complete with live chickens
A lot of artists and performers include some sort of “show within the show”, a bit of alternate storytelling or charade that serves as a counterbalance to the songs within the setlist. Sometimes, this may be done to distract the audience from some of the evening’s newer or lesser known numbers, while at other times, (think big-budget acts like Beyonce, Madonna, and Green Day) a narrative is intertwined within the performances that give the songs added depth and meaning. And, then, sometimes, like in case of Austin, Texas honky-tonker Dale Watson, the music simply serves as a perfect soundtrack to another communal event. In Watson’s case, that event is bingo, a pastime often played in the same dank and dusty barrooms, community centers, and saloons that he and his band, His Lonestars, so frequently command.
Live at the Big T Roadhouse, Chicken S#!+ Bingo Sunday serves as not only an ace documentation of a master group of Texas musicians performing at their country and honky-tonk peak, but also as a lesson in an absurd regional tradition. In some parts of the Texas landscape, folks gathered for their nightly game of Bingo up the ante by using live hens in place of chips or coins. As the poultry makes its’ way across the designated playing boards, their droppings fall on the marked numeric placements. If the contestants get those hoped-for numerals desecrated upon, well then, B-I-N-G-O! They’re a winner!
All of this fanfare is captured live, as Watson and his stellar band fill the time with close to two dozen country gems that would make even the sternest and most focused Bingo player leap up from the game to instead join in on the action happening on the dance floor. Around the southwest, Watson is a legend. With decades’ worth of performances and album releases under his belt and a rich baritone voice that means business, Watson knows how to command a room and hold the audience’s attention. A self-proclaimed purveyor of “Ameripolitan” music, he takes traditional country music and liberally douses it with shots of honky-tonk, Americana, blues, and garage rock. The results are usually both captivating and invigorating; you want to sit and admire the craftsmanship, but the sounds beg you to get up and dance.
Of course, you may still be too blown away by the Bingo concept to fully appreciate the music. In that case, it’s good to give the album some repeated listens. You’ll notice the heartfelt drinking anthems -- “Sit and Drink and Cry”, “I Lie When I Drink (And I Drink a Lot)”, and Merle Haggard’s “The Bottle Let Me Down”. You’ll revel in the escapism of travel tracks like “I Gotta Drive”, and the ubiquitous “Deep in the Heart of Texas”. You’ll even kick back and sip your drink contentedly to tracks like “Inside View” and “Oh No, Saddest Day in My Life”. Watson is a wordsmith and crafts some pretty remarkable and efficient turns of phrase. He also is adept at paying homage to the masters, an act he carries through to great effect as he namechecks the greats: Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, and Billy Joe Shaver to name a few.
The man also loves his Lone Star Beer. He peppers the set with short, jaunty jingles and odes to the cheaply priced yet crisp tasting unofficial state beer of Texas. Consider it free advertising for the company but complete truth for Watson, who allegedly drinks nothing but Lone Star onstage or off. Nevertheless, listening to this album almost certainly sounds even better with a little beverage of your own in hand.
If you’ve been fortunate enough to attend one of Watson’s legendary Texas throwdowns, then this album is a perfectly captured walk down memory lane. Just close your eyes and you’ll smell the stale beer, taste the flowing sawdust, and feel the floorboard vibrations of those two-stepping around your table. If you haven’t yet experienced any of this in person, well, then, this collection is a suitable substitute that can hold over until you get down to the Lone Star State and rectify the situation. For as good as the music sounds on record, it still pales in comparison to the sensory overload that is the Dale Watson live event. Fortunately, he’s out there close to 300 nights a year, in and around Texas, spreading the Ameripolitan gospel, singing the praises of Lonstar beer, and maybe emceeing a game or two of Chicken S#!+ Bingo. Both events are worth the price of admission.