MUSIC BOX: Indie and Proud, Mr. Watson

By on July 25, 2017

Teton County Fair brings Aaron Watson, GTMF features gold medal pianist Yekwon Sunwoo.

Aaron Watson

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Eighteen years into a country music career and Texan Aaron Watson remains independent. To borrow from the name of his 2015 Billboard chart-topping album, Watson is The Underdog and the rare bird has little regard for the mainstream country machine.

Watson owns his own label and distributes instead through premier distribution company, Thirty Tigers. Funny thing is, many of his songs would fit like a glove in Nashville. He has songs about trucks, rodeo queens, horses, Christianity and small town blue-collar struggles. The two biggest differences are that Watson pens most of his own songs and the production on most of his recordings is rather down-to-Earth, far from the slickness and formulaic sounds of mainstream country radio that has yet to give him full attention.

“We have a lot of blood sweat and tears invested, and it’s exciting,” Watson recently told The Boot. “I’m independent not because I’m not good enough. I’m independent because I’m unwilling to sell out on my music or my fans. I’m independent by choice.”

A Music Row executive once pushed Watson to bend his sound to fit the industry, even going so far as telling him that he’ll never make it. Watson uses it as a badge of honor and negotiates the indie musical landscape with a positive outlook.

“I’ve never thrown out any fightin’ words,” the 39-year-old told Taste of Country. “At the end of the day, I have a dream. If you aren’t going to be a player, then I had to figure out another way to skin that cat. From day one it was like, ‘Guess who came up with the album art cover?’ Me. ‘Guess who wrote 12 out of the 14 songs?’ Me. If you’re an independent artist, you’re only as good as your next record. That’s the truth. We live and die by putting out quality records.”

A family man, Watson has had a slow and steady climb working the Texas circuit and refining his songwriting with each release. His eleventh album, Vaquero, is a sprawling 16-track set with musings about the good ole days and love songs, presumably for his longtime wife. It’s not necessarily a fresh sound, but it’s sensible and accessible without having tunnel vision like most of country radio. It’s not traditional and its not pop country, and existing somewhere in between is a space that Watson’s contemporaries could tip their cowboy hats to.

Mayor Pete Muldoon’s outlaw country six-piece Major Zephyr is a solid fit for opening the show. While Muldoon has yet to release an album, he’s got a satchel full of good original material, a commendable baritone voice, and a killer band comprised of Andy Peterson (drums), Marshall Davis (bass), Jeff Eidemiller (guitar), Ted Wells (pedal steel/banjo), and Mark Longfield (keys).

Teton County Fair Concert with Aaron Watson and opener Major Zephyr, 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 26 at Teton County Fairgrounds, free.

Yekwon Sunwoo

Wooed with ivory

Dramatic and intense, highly technical and melodically fleeting, 28-year-old Yekwon Sunwoo of South Korea is a masterful pianist. Sunwoo was recently crowned 2017 gold medalist at the renowned Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth and he’ll be featured by the Grand Teton Music Festival to perform some of the pieces that led him to the achievement—Haydn’s Sonata in C, Major Ravel’s La Valse, Grainger’s arrangement of Ramble on the Last Love-Duet from Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, and an original work by pianist-composer Marc-André Hamelin.

Sunwoo gave his recital and orchestra debuts in 2004 in Seoul before moving to the United States in 2005 to study with Seymour Lipkin at the Curtis Institute of Music. He earned his bachelor’s degree there and his master’s at The Juilliard School, and also studied with Richard Goode at the Mannes School of Music.

GTMF presents Yekwon Sunwoo, 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 26 at Walk Festival Hall, $25, students are free. PJH

Aaron Davis is a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, member of Screen Door Porch and Boondocks, audio engineer at Three Hearted Studio, founder/host of Songwriter’s Alley, and co-founder of The WYOmericana Caravan.


James McMurtry (Knotty Pine);

Aaron Watson & Major Zephyr (Fairgrounds);

Yekwon Sunwoo (Walk Festival Hall)


Kris Lager Band with Groovement (Victor City Park)



(Boondocks in Pinedale);


(Town Square Tavern)


Buffalo Ruckus (Mangy Moose);

Hogan & Moss (Silver Dollar);

Funk Felonz DJs

(Town Square Tavern)


Tasha (Silver Dollar);

Stagecoach Band (Stagecoach)


JH Hootenanny (Dornan’s);

Open Mic (Pinky G’s)


One Ton Pig

(Silver Dollar);


(Mangy Moose)

About Aaron Davis

Aaron Davis is a decade-long writer of Music Box, a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, member of Screen Door Porch and Boondocks, founder/host of Songwriter’s Alley, and co-founder of The WYOmericana Caravan.

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