by Aaron Kinney
Singer Jared Watson couldn’t tell you for sure if The Dirty Heads have played Jacksonville already. With scores of shows in dozens of cities, he can be forgiven.
“A lot of dates and cities kind of blend together after a while,” Watson says.
Even so, the nerves kick in whenever the reggae-rock group performs in a new venue. They don’t know how the crowd will receive them, if ticket sales will be high or if the performance will go off without complications.
And when they perform at the Florida Theater August 29, that feeling will return. The nerves will kick in, and so will the excitement.
“In the last couple of years, that’s been the coolest part about being in this band and about having the small success that we’re getting,” Watson says. “It’s showing up to new cities that we’ve never been in and having kids there singing every word. Showing up to a new city and selling it out.”
The Dirty Heads are currently on their first major tour with reggae fusion singer Matisyahu. They’ve opened for him on past tours, and featured him on the song Dance All Night, from their latest album, Cabin by the Sea. Watson says they couldn’t be happier on tour with him.
“It’s like summer camp. It’s rad,” Watson says. “Everybody gets along. The fans are friends; the crowds have been great. And we both have new albums, so we’re both doing great.”
The Dirty Heads second album, Cabin by the Sea, released this June. Watson calls the reception “insane,” adding that there seems to have been more crowd participation than with the previous album, Any Port in a Storm. That’s great for bands that thrive on connecting with their audience.
Fans follow The Dirty Heads on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, but they can also chat with them at one of their numerous meet-and-greets, which they hold after every show.
“After every show, we’ll go out to the bus, we’ll go to the barricades and sign stuff and hang out with our fans,” Watson says. “If there’s not a meet and greet at a show, it’s because nobody wanted to come.”
It’s all about staying dedicated to the fans, not getting lazy and not going “rock star” (developing an inflated sense of self-worth). Watson’s seen plenty of performers with reputations for disrespecting the press and the fans.
“And it’s like, ‘Do you have to do that? Fake people out that you’re bigger?’” Watson asks. “I’m a grown man, and I’m a human being, and so are you.”
That sense of respect and of closeness with the fans is part of the message of reggae, which Watson has loved since he was a kid.
“My parents were playing reggae, and my brother really got into the culture,” Watson says. “Being the younger brother, (I followed) what he did. There’s just something about reggae, about the message and the whole vibe of positivity and spreading love. I was just sucked into it.”
Later, Watson would be spitting raps and writing music with Dirty Heads founding member, Dustin Bushnell. From Bushnell’s soundproof garage, the two continued to experiment until they began writing full songs. When their small performances began to grow, they realized they’d stumbled onto something.
Being on the road in a successful band is still surreal for Watson, after years of touring.
“I’m having a blast. I love my job. I’ll do this all day,” Watson says. “You know, my worst day on the road or in the studio is still better than any day I could have in some office or some 9-5 that I absolutely hate.”