In 2017, when Texas country singer Aaron Watson recorded Live at the World's Biggest Rodeo Show -- his 14th album and the first live record he's released in over a decade -- he planned for the project to cap off what had already been a successful year. The first single off of his newest album, Vaquero, "Outta Style," had netted Watson his first Top 10 country radio hit, after nearly two decades of releasing music. A born and bred Texan, he could think of no better way to celebrate than performing on the opening night of the 2017 Houston Rodeo.

"This is the world's biggest rodeo," he tells The Boot. He remembers thinking, "My wife, my kids, my mom, my dad and 65,000 fans are going to be there -- how about we just capture this moment in time?" And in the beginning, that was all the album was supposed to be.

"I've had people ask me for 15 years, 'When's Houston Rodeo gonna have you on the big stage?' So it was a victorious moment for me and all the people who have supported me for all these years," Watson says. He had plans to release the live album to commemorate the evening -- "but," he adds, "you know what? Our timeline for the album's release ran smack dab into Hurricane Harvey."

In the early fall of 2017, Hurricane Harvey ravaged Houston and Texas' coastline, leaving $125 billion in damages in its wake. Watson points out that, in 2018, a year after the storm hit, Harvey recovery efforts rarely make mainstream news, despite the extensive wreckage that still affects Texas, and will continue to do so for years and decades to come. "It had such a huge impact on our state," Watson says -- so much so that, after the hurricane, putting out Live at the World's Biggest Rodeo Show didn't feel right.

"Honestly, I thought this live album was gonna get shelved and never come to life," Watson admits. "Then we came up with the idea that it would be really special if we put it out on the one-year anniversary."

Aaron Watson Live at the World's Largest Rodeo Show
Courtesy of Monarch Publicity

With that plan in mind, Watson's live album took on new meaning: "We just thought, what a great opportunity for us to give back, to be able to join forces with the governor's office, the Rebuild Texas Fund, and try to raise some money and awareness," he explains. Each purchase of the album will include a $1.41 donation to the fund.

In addition to the 13 live songs included on the project, which span Watson's career, he added a reflective bonus track. "Higher Ground," the singer says, was written in order to channel his feelings during the storm.

"I wrote ["Higher Ground"] while it was all going down. I never wanted to record it. I was never gonna put it on Facebook. I didn't wanna be one of those guys that was elevating my career with someone else's heartache," Watson says. However, when he decided to release the live album, he wanted to include the song as a message of healing: "We recorded a sweet, simple, broke down version of it," he recalls. "The song is a tribute to all the people who were affected by the hurricane, and all the people that came to aid those affected."

"It's like this: Especially at that time, which is not much different than it is now, there's all this political unrest," Watson goes on to say. "You turn on the news, and everything is bad news. Which annoys me, because I travel all over the world and see a lot of beautiful things. I really feel like, for a moment in time, seeing all those people in Texas that joined forces ... To see people who are of different colors, different races, different political affiliations and different churches all getting along and treating each other with kindness, it was an amazing thing.

"All of us should take step back and learn from those situations," he adds. "I know it made an impact on me."

Live at the World's Biggest Rodeo Show is available now.

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