Seriously, the people who made Friday Night Lights — either the film or the series — ought to think about commissioning a screenplay on this guy. Watson is a red-state archetype without the ungainly political baggage: a happily married father of three who stands tall for faith, family and first responders. (It really was First Responders Day at the rodeo, made all the more poignant by the passing of Houston Fire Department Captain "Iron Bill" Dowling a few hours before Watson took the stage.) Watson, too, has seen real tragedy in his life, losing a daughter at a young age, the genesis of The Underdog’s “Bluebonnets (Julia’s Song).” Artists like him aren’t necessarily supposed to be successful in 2017; the world has long grown too cynical, or so we are led to believe.
Yet as goosebumpy as it was, to single out the most emotional moment of Watson’s set would not be entirely fair to the rest of the songs, because in the dizzying amount of territory he covered in about 45 minutes, nothing felt anything less than 100 percent authentic. Other songs touched on rodeo life (“God Loves Cowboys”), disabled veterans like his dad (“Raise Your Bottle”) and windows-down summertime highway music (“Outta Style”). If that last one is not blaring from every pickup from Watson's hometown of Amarillo to the shores of Lake Ontario two months from now, there really is no hope for commercial country radio.
As someone who admitted to waiting his whole life for his turn on the rodeo stage, Watson deserves more than a one-and-done shot. The announced crowd of 51,586 may have been on the modest side, but that’s still nothing to sneeze at, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a performer at RodeoHouston more in tune with the audience in the stands. Tuesday, his modern-throwback aesthetic was probably best articulated in “Like They Used To,” which extols the virtues of fried chicken, Patsy Cline and John T. Floore’s Country Store, and by extension artists who slog through years of lousy gigs until one day they’re thanking their kids for skipping school to come see daddy play at the Houston rodeo. They don’t make ’em like they used to, all right, except for when they still do.