When: Mon., Dec. 22, 8 p.m. 2014
JIM WATSON's CHRISTMAS SHOW | MONDAY, DEC. 22
THE CAVE, CHAPEL HILL—On Monday night, Christmas comes early to The Cave: Given the underground room's predilection for raucous rock and ramshackle Americana, Christmas and The Cave may seem like an odd pair. But it's a tradition that Chapel Hill traditional music mainstay Jim Watson has maintained for 29 years. He shows up with a stack of lyric sheets, passes them out, and leads the crowd in holiday standards.
"For a lot of those people, it's their opportunity to sing Christmas carols," Watson says of The Cave patrons who join him. These aren't necessarily churchgoing folk, he explains, or people with any real excuse to sing these songs, though they might want to. He puts seasonal music in an unintimidating context: "This is an opportunity to do it and drink a beer at the same time."
At first, Watson just played for whomever was in the room, but two decades ago, crowds started arriving specifically for Watson's Christmas show. At this point, there's even a CD version, recorded by Jerry Brown of Chapel Hill's Rubber Room at 2011's singalong. Watson records all his albums with Brown, taking advantage of an area studio that's had excellent modern traditional clients like Mandolin Orange and Steep Canyon Rangers.
Watson's own involvement goes back much further: He was active in Chapel Hill's traditional music scene in the '60s and '70s, recording with the Hollow Rock String Band and then helping form The Red Clay Ramblers. Today, he tours with married folk duo Robin and Linda Williams, and plays with other ex-Ramblers in Craver Hicks Watson Newberry. He's now recording an LP with banjo player Ken Perlman and fiddler Alan Jabbour, another Hollow Rock alum. For all the accomplished players he joins, he's most excited to see what new pickers offer.
"The kind of music I play is thought of as being a very old style of music, but there are new people coming into it all the time," he says. "That's the only way it's gonna keep going."
As for his Christmas sets, these are made up of old songs, too, but new people keep coming out to sing every verse of "Jingle Bells" or "O Little Town of Bethlehem" while drinking a PBR in a basement dive.
"When I started it, I never would have thought it would have gone on this long," Watson says. "The folks at The Cave have been willing to keep letting me do it there, so I keep doing it." 8 p.m., $8, 452 1/2 Franklin St., Chapel Hill, 919-968-9308, caverntavern.com. —Corbie Hill