Dale Watson – World’s Largest Truckstop (Walcott, IA)
It was just one stop in what might be called Long-haul-apalooza. Like the truckers they played for during the day, Dale Watson and his three-piece band, the Lone Stars, had logged 13,000 miles in four weeks in Watson’s Chevrolet Suburban before arriving in Walcott, Iowa. Today’s gig, at the self-proclaimed “World’s Largest Truckstop”, was in a parking lot superlatively equal to its namesake.
The crowd relaxed on bales of hay in the midst of gleaming, brand-new Kenworth and Peterbilt trucks on display, pensively dragging on cigarettes in the oppressive Heartland humidity of eastern Iowa. A few ebullient University of Iowa students, who had heard Watson the night before in Iowa City when he sat in for three tunes with Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys, rounded out the hay-bale sitters to about 75 people. Transient onlookers, 40 or 50 at any given time, stood arms folded behind the crowd.
Watson, who was the opening act for what he jokingly, but not inaccurately, called “some top-40 crap” country band, diligently set out to play his brand of honky-tonk in the surreal setting, with the roar of big rigs rolling by on Interstate 80 in the background. Undaunted by the steamy surroundings and apparent apathy, he strapped on his guitar and hopped on the back of a flatbed truck that doubled for a stage. Adroitly picking a Telecaster he said Leo Fender gave him, he traded solos with lead guitarist Dave Biller. In honor of the crowd, he cranked out “Truckstop in La Grange” and “Truckin’ Man”, a couple of originals from his new album, Blessed or Damned.
Expressionless faces exhaled tobacco smoke while a few children horsed around near the front of the stage. Watson’s deep and powerful voice continued to move cleanly through homespun originals such as “That’s What I Like About Texas” and “South of Round Rock, Texas”.
Then the chance for something free transformed the placid audience into a relative frenzy. Watson covered “Hello Walls” and offered his new CD to the first person in the crowd who could identify the artist that made the song a hit. At least five people remembered Farron Young, and the generous Watson gave those five copies of Blessed or Damned.
This started a stream of requests for cover tunes, and Watson good-naturedly indulged the crowd with some Hank Sr., Ernest Tubb and Ronnie Milsap tunes, among others, before returning to original material to end the 90-minute set. Afterward, Watson signed autographs for a few people who purchased his disc while the boys in the band loaded the Suburban — ready to roll on to Columbia, Missouri, and that endless stretch of truckstops and honky-tonks on the horizon.