Behind the Music: Phil Watson

Phil Watson performs from 6-9 p.m. Wednesdays through April at Sandbars Raw Bar & Grill, 1716 N. Croatan Hwy., Kill Devil Hills.

Outer Banks musician Phil Watson grew up around music: Grandparents, aunts, uncles…they all played music.

“I remember my grandparents had a full stage setup in their basement where I grew up in Moundsville, West Virginia, and the entire family would get together and have big jam sessions,” Watson says. “I just remember being a kid and listening to them and wishing I could play, too.”

In fifth grade, he learned how to play saxophone, and at age 13, he picked up guitar.

“I even went as far as being a jazz saxophonist all through college and did some touring in a saxophone quartet. I don’t play much sax these days, but all that jazz is still in my heart.”

He began performing professionally when he was a teenager.

“I do remember I had just turned 16 when I started playing in bars and restaurants, but that was mostly open mic nights and such,” he says. “I believe I was 17 when I got my first paying gig.”

Over the years, he’s honed his talent, but he’s still searching for his “sound.”

“I’ve always had a hard time putting my finger on what style I would consider myself. It’s very eclectic for sure,” Watson says. “I would probably have to lean towards singer-songwriter, but I really do span many genres. I like to do my own take on most the covers that I play, make them my own.”

He’s shared the stage with the alt-country band Celtic, folk-infused Indie Rock Carbon Leaf; Southern rockers Gov’t Mule; alternative pop/rock and country band Cracker; and guitar virtuoso Tim Reynolds, who is lead guitarist in the Dave Matthews Band.

For the better part of a decade, Watson performed on the Outer Banks as a duo with percussionist/vocalist Matt Calhoun called Watson and Calhoun.

“He and I played together and had a pretty amazing time up and down the east coast. He no longer lives in the area, but we always try to do reunion shows when he comes to town for a visit,” Watson says.

“Another musician I have played with locally is killer bassist Morgan Hague. This guy has some serious chops. He played with Matt and me on several occasions and as a duo with me.”

For the past few years, Watson has performed as a solo act, averaging just over 200 shows a year, “so that keeps me pretty busy.”

One of those gigs is from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays at Sandbars Raw Bar & Grill in Kill Devil Hills.

Performing on the Outer Banks is a long way from his grandparents’ basement in the Mountain State, and Watson considers himself lucky to do what he loves to do in a place most people can only visit once or twice a year for a week.

“I always joke and say I have the best job with the best office ever. There is nothing like sitting outside on an oceanfront deck overlooking the Atlantic and singing my heart out to a great group of people who are having the time of their lives,” he says. “It’s pretty rewarding being able to be a part of making their memories. I have met a lot of people over the years, many of which make it a point to seek me out wherever I’m playing year after year when they are here and becoming a part of their vacation ritual.”

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