watershed \’wot-er-shed \ 3 : a crucial dividing point or line
My watershed moment came on 8/15/15, watching Watershed perform to a sold-out crowd at Ace of Cups near campus. I’d seen the band a half dozen times in the past, but it was usually at some polite outdoor event such as Comfest or the Independents' Day Festival. This was the first time I’d watch the band at an indoor venue, filled to the rafters with rabid Watershed fans.
Needless to say, this experience was far different than the others.
For starters, you never really “know” a band until you see them with in their element, playing at a local venue, surrounded by their biggest fans. Watershed plays only one or two shows a year in town, so this was an extremely hot ticket. The bar was packed full of rabid fans, and this show was a different type of initiation for me, a personal watershed of Watershed.
I arrived at 9 pm and waited in line outside the bar, along with a steady stream of young and middle-aged fans that had grown up with the band. Their love and enthusiasm for Watershed was unabated; many in line were without tickets and stood outside hoping in earnest to get inside. The show had sold out hours before and the long line was an indication that this was a very hot ticket indeed.
Fans came from as far away as Idaho to attend this gig. I stood in line next to a brother and sister who’d been attending shows for fifteen years. The sister proclaimed: “I’d travel to North Carolina just to see them play!!!”
The band took the stage around 9:45 pm and blasted their first power chord to a raucous cheer. The front-men, Colin and Joe, exchanged lyrics between themselves and the audience, and it wasn’t long until the whole crowd was shouting lyrics at the top of their lungs in unison with the band. Needless to say, a chill ran down my spine: this was what a rock and roll show looked and felt like.
Watershed moved seamlessly from one song to the next, barely taking their foot off the gas; the crowd joined them tirelessly. They emphasize dual-guitar, power-rock chords with hook-heavy choruses that must be belted at the top of your lungs:“Now I’m feelin’ so good/ Feelin’ so fine / And this is totally obvious!” Every song had an exclamation point; every chorus an indelible hook; every lyric a rhythm that throbbed in your throat. Colin leaped in the air as he thrashed power chords; Joe plucked his bass as he churned out vocals; original drummer Herb Schupp attacked the kit as if he had never left the band; and rhythm guitarist Rick Kinsinger graciously took a backseat to the original trio that first started playing back in the late ‘80s.
“Radio playing my favorite song / I get all the boys and girls to sing along”
Some bands politely ask for your attention - Watershed punches you in the stomach. Some bands can mildly touch a nerve - Watershed is a defibrillator to the soul. Some bands quietly grab you over time - Watershed is a two-by-four across the head.
Watershed has stayed relevant for nearly four decades because they figured out the formula. They’ve been able to endure because they know rock and roll isn’t just about them - it’s about the relationship between themselves and the audience. In an age of twitter feeds, YouTube clips and corporate karaoke contests, Watershed pays homage to the traditional paradigm of music’s real magic: to win, you must lose yourself in a song.
The band pulls its influences from a variety of sources - notably Cheap Trick and The Velvet Underground - but they put a twist on their tunes that is purely Watershed. The way Colin and Joe exchange lines is reminiscent of Daltrey and Townshend, but they do it in their own time signature. The way they bash out power chords reminds me of The Sex Pistols and The Kinks, but they do it the Watershed way. The way they belt out choruses in unison reminds me of Green Day or The Clash, but it’s typical Watershed. It’s refreshing to see a band that has taken its own path while - at the same time - paying homage to their heroes. Watershed has figured that out and - judging by the crowd’s reaction - so have we.
There isn’t a bigger fan of music than Colin Gawel. A coffee shop owner by day and rock star by night, he keeps a watchful eye on both the local and national scene. Whether he’s pushing to get Cheap Trick into the Hall of Fame or dedicating his efforts on a Willie Phoenix retrospective, Colin’s got his pulse on the scene. He doesn’t covet this to himself either; his blog “Pencilstorm” is a forum for anyone to share opinions about music, sports, politics, or life in general. (Case in point: this post!)
Joe Oestreich is a successful teacher and author in his own right, and recently published his second book. (editor's note: That book - "Line Of Scrimmage" - is available for order right now at Amazon.) His first, a memoir about the band - Hitless Wonder: A Life in Minor League Rock and Roll - is a great read for anybody who’s curious about life in the music business. It’s a compilation of funny stories and a reflection on the paradoxes of being a working musician. Both Colin and Joe are paradoxes in many ways; they are so much more than middle-aged rockers who can’t seem to relinquish their dreams. They are pioneers and visionaries who have a unique story to share about life in the music business. They still play music for the sheer love of it. They pay continual homage to their hometown and haven’t forgotten their roots, either personal or musical. They’re about “bum notes and pounds of sweat” and highs & lows in the music industry. They are smart and successful in their own right. Even though they never enjoyed the monetary success of a Cheap Trick or a Velvet Underground, they’ve made a very distinct mark in the music scene and are a proud legacy in their hometown of Columbus.
My Watershed moment came last night. For me, to watch a musician sing words and have a room full of people sing back to you is a success in it’s own right: a success that few of us can enjoy. To have a fellow musician such as Erica Blinn leave her gig and come down to watch her mentor play is no small feat, either. Major league…minor league…whatever: they’re in a league of their own. And it’s fitting that track number 11 on their Fifth of July record is titled: “The Best is Yet to Come.”
Rock on, Watershed.
below: A clip of the show by none other than Pencilstorm contributor and acclaimed guitarist himself, Scott Carr