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Watson and area establishes itself ground zero for year-round live music

Updated: Feb 25

words and pictures by Maury Wrubleski

Haussecker and crew brought in a kitchen table, adorned with ceramic coffee cups and stubby beer bottles as set dressing for a recent Zachary Lucky / Richard Inman performance

The crossroads community of Watson in central Saskatchewan is widely known for its gargantuan Santa statue greeting travelers from all directions. The town has gained fame, being rightfully labelled as the oldest Santa Day in the province. Now, the vibrant community of around 750 is fast gaining a reputation as being the hub for some of the province’s best concert going, especially when it comes to folk, roots and down-home kitchen table country.

The Watson and District Heritage Museum, housed in a beautifully ornate historic bank building, has been put into service as arguably one of the province’s most quaint concert venues. Over the past few years, its makeshift stage has seen relative newcomers and well-established musicians perform in a uniquely intimate atmosphere. The chairs are nestled in among artifacts like antique merchant scales and classic typewriters – even a manual typeset press from a bygone newspaper. Murals depicting the area’s origins scroll around the walls, casting the visitors into a time before rampant technology. That’s the spirit surrounding the acoustic offerings from many players who’ve visited. Amps and sonic processors are welcome, but the confines have often seen well–worn acoustic guitars, banjos, fiddles, handsaws, pedal steels – all the instruments that harken to a bygone era.

Northern pioneer Gordie Tentrees graces the Museum stage

That doesn’t mean the music isn’t contemporary at a Museum concert. And it doesn’t mean that the Museum is the only venue Watson has at its disposal. Their spacious town hall auditorium hosted a yuletide concert by Saskatchewan country superstar, Jess Moskaluke, who has family in the area. Main Street provides the home for a flatbed inspired stage that hosts the annual Street Fest, drawing music lovers from near and far.

At the heart of the diverse musical interest is Jim Haussecker, community stalwart and roots music lover, who has evolved deep connections in the Canadian folk and blues performing community. Haussecker and his wife, Jodi, have hosted backyard concerts, pulled in artists from all corners of the country, and acted as local promoters, hosts, and even hoteliers in service of their community.

It was over a decade ago that Jim brought in the first of what would be a long string of acts that would contribute to the community in ways he couldn’t imagine. He credits the help of Judy Schmid with the Museum and the Museum Board in sharing the vision of morphing the museum’s main floor into an intimate sonic space.

“I’d been listening to Tim Hus, and I fired an email off to him figuring he might come do something of a benefit for the fire department,” Haussecker recalled, his voice swelling with emotion. “About a month before the gig, we found out our son, Dylan, had cancer. The Fire Department ended up taking over the gig and turned it into a fundraiser for us.” The Hausseckers never got to see Tim Hus at that inaugural Watson concert, but Jim plainly recalls Hus giving the family a call while they were in hospital for Dylan’s round of treatment. Months later, with Dylan beating cancer, the Hausseckers picked up where they left off in their musical promotion having experienced firsthand the impact the artists have on a community and its members.

Saskatchewan country/folk songwriter Jolie Blue was next on the parade through Watson. Blue has become a perennial favourite with Haussecker, and by extension Watson music enthusiasts. Haussecker remembers Blue shuffling another event to open for Tim Hus on a return visit.

Since then, scores of other performers have played on the Museum steps or on the stage. In the last couple years alone, northern pioneer Gordie Tentrees, country throwback Zachary Lucky, high country rancher and songwriter Richard Inman, and Saskatchewan folk gem Ellen Froese have crossed the stage. Roots and blues artist Mike Plume was the first to play the Museum, and he’s been a regular fixture including an already sold-out return visit scheduled for this fall. Museum goers have also delighted in the rich resonant voice and farm-soaked songs of JJ Voss. Each one of the artists has opened a unique pathway for roots/folk/country aficionados to lovingly explore.

Roots and blues artist Mike Plume was the first to play the Museum, and he’s been a regular fixture including an already sold-out return visit scheduled for this fall.

Watson’s outdoor summer music extravaganza, Street Fest, has seen established artists like banjo virtuoso Eliza Doyle mix it up with newcomers like the fledgling country rock outfit Sask Steel who headlined in 2023. For Evan Zentner of Sask Steel, who grew up nearby, it was a homecoming of sorts that introduced the band and its heads up, rocking brand of country to new followers. All the money from the summer event went to the Watson Fire Department to help with their equipment and facilities needs. Another musical coup came for the community when Saskatchewan born and raised country star Jess Moskaluke pulled in for a seasonal serenade at the Watson Town Auditorium. Moskaluke’s sold out show was another feather in the cap of local organizers with the funds going to the Quill Plains Centennial Lodge fund in their efforts to secure and furnish a new multi-level care living facility.

Eliza Doyle playing Street Fest, a popular summetime event in Watson

Norma Weber is the chair of the Quill Plains Lodge Development Committee, the Mayor of Watson, and an avid music lover who seldom misses a local concert. “When you live out here in the country, you don’t have the opportunity to go to concerts like in the city, and those are big venues,” said Weber, talking about the more homegrown experience in Watson. “Those are big venues, and I like the small venues, like the odd house concert we have at the Anglican church. They are just so intimate. You tell stories, and it’s just like sitting around the kitchen table.”

Indeed, Haussecker and crew brought in a kitchen table, adorned with ceramic coffee cups and stubby beer bottles as set dressing for a recent Zachary Lucky / Richard Inman performance. There are no $200 plus backstage passes or VIP sections. Everyone has a chance to talk to the artists, catch up on family connections (as was the case at a recent Ellen Froese outing), and connect with the artists and with each other. The small-seating show spirit has leap frogged to another unlikely venue about 50 km down the road. Brian Grest has a long history in music performance and appreciation. He has brought guests into the region for house concerts on occasion over the years. While he has no aspirations to be a full-time concert promoter, he’s been instrumental in establishing an out of the way music haunt in the hills near Dixon, Saskatchewan. A repurposed rural school serves as the home of the Carlton Trail Cross Country Ski Club. The renovated clubhouse turned makeshift concert hall is about as far away from city lights as you can get, but that’s part of the appeal, says Grest. “I think the artists were especially impressed; it’s in a quiet rural setting, a little bit in the middle of nowhere. Club members Marie and Deb have created a fantastic atmosphere with their decorating.”

The added touch of a dessert table or some homespun charcuterie at both the Watson and Dixon venues for the patrons just extends that house party feel. The artists, many of whom are midway tour bound, love the home-cooked preshow meals of moose stew or venison sausage. Whatever is on the menu is a gracious departure from road fare. The ingenuity of these small, out of the way venues, the improvised street stages, the ubiquitous prairie town halls – they all are key in generating an interest in grassroots Canadian music in rural Saskatchewan. It’s also about the people: the Jim and Jodi Hausseckers, the Brian Grests, the Judy Schmids, and the communities and organizations that work tirelessly to promote performing arts. It’s a magical blend that will keep the Watson region steeped in great Canadian music for a long time.

Main Street provides the home for a flatbed inspired stage that hosts the annual Street Fest. Here's Sask Steel performing.

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