Dale Watson On Leaving Austin: ‘The City Has Sold Itself’

Honky tonk legend Dale Watson is moving from Austin to Memphis. He says the Tennessee city is a lot like Austin was in the early 80s.

By Leah ScarpelliMarch 8, 2018 12:06 pm,

Just as thousands of musicians are descending upon Austin in hopes of getting that big break at South by Southwest, one of the city’s most beloved performers has packed his bags for Tennessee. Texas honky tonk legend Dale Watson is putting down new roots in Memphis, in a house just a mile from Graceland.

Watson says the “live music capital of the world” is a difficult place for musicians to live now, even for those who have achieved success.

“I make a good living,” Watson says. “But the city has really made it hard to make a living and live in the city limits.”

Watson, who says he wants to live at least part-time in Texas, may buy a place in Taylor, or another small community with fewer of the big-city problems he sees in Austin.

“I just really feel the city has sold itself. Just because you’re going to get $45 million for a company to come to town – if it’s not in the best interest of the town, I don’t think they should do it. This city was never about money. It was about quality of life.”

Though he isn’t a proponent of corporate largess by the city, Watson says he’s disappointed that Austin hasn’t done more to support home-grown projects, like his Ameripolitan Awards. He originally staged the country music event in Austin, but it is now held annually in Memphis.

“[Memphis] was more welcoming. They did more to help me put the award show on. The city’s attitude here was – I only brought 1,200 people from out of town,” Watson says. “To them it was like ‘we’ve got 12,000 people coming in next week for the marathon.'”

Watson says one practical obstacle in Austin for musicians, artists and other creatives who work in downtown venues is paid parking.

“That takes so much out of musicians’ pockets,” he says. Watson can afford to use Uber to go to his gigs, but other musicians can’t, he says.

Watson says Memphis is a lot like Austin in the early 1980s. Of Austin then, he says “There was something raw and real.”

Written by Shelly Brisbin.