Philly-Based Frontwoman Victoria Watts Brings Pop Rock Fun to Ship Bottom

Jun 06, 2018
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Last Friday at Joe Pop’s Shore Bar and Restaurant in Ship Bottom, a young woman with cobalt blue accents in her inky-black hair pounced from stage to dance floor again and again, directing a pre-show sound check with the poise and ease of a seasoned professional. In frayed denim shorts, sneakers and a black tank, Victoria Watts authoritatively picked her way through the instruments and equipment. Fiddling with this switch here and tugging this cord there, she would grab an instrument, cock her ears and strike a few chords. Fiddle. Set it down. Repeat. She’d consult her male bandmates, exchange a deep, gravelly laugh, disappear behind the speakers and then reappear moments later, calling out instructions or feedback.

By 10:30 p.m., the bar had a steady little crowd. Multi-colored ceiling lights flashed across the dance floor in anticipation for the coming act, while newcomers filtered through the entrance and placed their drink orders at the bar. As Watts and company made their trek toward the stage, the only thing lacking was a smoke machine.

In the 10 or so minutes since her completed sound check, Watts had transformed from road crew into rocker chick. Having donned black leather pants, a black top and tall lace-up boots (think ’90s punk femme), she slung her electric guitar across her shoulder, expressed a humble, appreciative greeting into the microphone and whisked the audience into a flurry of sound via “What I Like About You,” by The Romantics.

With bandmates Joey DiTullio on guitar, Kevin van Ouwerkerk on drums and Kirby San on bass, it didn’t take long for the crowd to get warmed up to Watts. By the time her rendition of Petty’s “American Girl” came around, the bargoers were up and dancing, crowding the foot of the stage and reciting the lyrics noisily back to the musicians.

Watts’ rock prowess is comparable to some of the industry’s more profound female vocalists: Ann Wilson, Pink, Joan Jett. She manages a crisp pitch and broad, belt-y range like Kelly Clarkson’s while harnessing the edge and depth of Pat Benatar. Throw in an engaging, spunky stage presence and you’ve got yourself a Friday night for the books.

Particularly impressive was her genre flexibility. She could shift from classic rock to country, from pop to alternative, adding her own electric, funky twist song to song without missing a beat. Near the end of her first set, Watts sang “Closer” by the Chainsmokers, a millennial anthem and crowd pleaser. Much to the delight of tipsy twenty-somethings, the band mixed the tune with Coldplay’s “Something Just Like This,” and replaced the EDM elements with a grungy electric sound.

Music runs in Watts’ blood. “I grew up in a musical family. We had music all around when I was growing up.” She was born and raised in San Diego, more than a stone’s throw away from her current Philly locale. Her journey east began after high school, when she flew across the country to attend the Contemporary Music Center, an artists colony in Massachusetts.

While some work their entire lives to uncover mere semblances of their talents and aspirations, Watts had it all figured out at a young age. “I was 12 years old and I saw a female singer songwriter steal the show opening up for a band, and I was like, I can do that. I want to do that.”

She started writing music around the same time she learned to play the guitar. “My first 50 songs were awful – because I knew, like, two chords.” She named Pat Benatar, Jenny Lewis and Arcade Fire to be among her many musical inspirations.

Now Watts is a full-time musician. When she’s not playing four to six gigs a week, she’s writing pop-rock originals, teaching music lessons, blogging or contributing to top music publications. Perhaps most notable among her musical pursuits is her work with Rock to the Future, an organization that provides free music education for Philadelphia’s less fortunate youth. Watts teaches guitar lessons to the students in the after-school, nonprofit program. “Finding an outlet that helps me show other students in a similar situation see that they can do it, is awesome. It’s awesome to feel like you’re giving back, especially if I can do it through music.”

Just as sweet as she is cool, Watts seems to fill the space she occupies with a rare lighthearted optimism, set on spreading her gifts and perspective to anyone she can.

“Music is what made me feel like I could dream and do something different. I’m a first-generation college graduate, and it’s music that made all of that happen.”

For more information about Victoria Watts and her upcoming performances, visit victoriawattsmusic.com/ or find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Victoriawattsmusic/.

— Sarah Hodgson

 

Set List Snippet:

“What I Like About You,” The Romantics

“American Girl,” Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

“Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” Pat Benatar

“Body Like a Back Road,” Sam Hunt

“Happy,” Pharrell Williams

“Chicken Fried,” Zac Brown Band

“The Middle,” Jimmy Eat World

“Raise Your Glass,” Pink

“Santeria,” Sublime

“Faith,” George Michael

“I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” The Proclaimers

“All The Small Things,” blink-182

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