Although he's a country music star, Gene Watson is about to make his second appearance at the New Year's Bluegrass Festival on Jekyll Island.
"I've performed at several of these festivals," Watson says. "It's quite gratifying that me being a country artist, they accept me into their house as readily as they do."
The 39th annual festival will be take place over three days, Jan. 1, 2 and 3, at the Jekyll Island Convention Center. Musicians from throughout the country are scheduled to perform, including Rhonda Vincent & The Rage, the Gibson Brothers, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Bluebilly Grit, Darin & Brooke Aldridge, Nothin' Fancy, the Little Roy & Lizzy Show, Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice and many, many more.
"Rhonda Vincent and I have a duet album out," Watson says. "She is the queen of bluegrass. We're planning another one.
"We've been fortunate in that all these festivals we've played have had tremendous audiences," he says. "Bluegrassers are a pretty tight-knit group."
The festival is put on by Adams Bluegrass LLC, which was founded 39 years ago by Norman Adams.
"We wanted to have a place in the winter to go have bluegrass music and be indoors," he says. "We chose Jekyll Island because it had a nice convention center and we liked it."
The first festival wasn't big, and Adams says "the second one wasn't much better."
But it continued to grow and today is one of the company's most popular events.
"The advance ticket sales have been really good," Adams says. "We just took an order for some people who are coming from Canada just for the festival."
The company does eight events in all.
"All of our shows are bluegrass," Adams says. "We had one in Myrtle Beach on Thanksgiving weekend.
"We'll be pickin' and grinnin' for three days on Jekyll Island. It's a year-round labor of love for us.
"Some of our shows are held in music parks," he says. "We put up a huge tent and have our shows inside it."
Adams has been a bluegrass fan all his life.
"I growed up listening to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio," he says. "My daddy loved Bill Monroe, who I picked up and who sang with us until the time he passed."
Known as "the Singer's Singer," Watson grew up poor in Paris, Texas.
As his father worked logging and crop-picking jobs, the family moved from shack to shack, at one point living in a converted school bus. Watson dropped out of school in the ninth grade to work alongside his parents in the fields.
"It was all I ever knew," he says. "I never even dreamed of being an entertainer."
But everyone in the family sang, including Watson's seven siblings and both parents.
"I was the only one that took it up as a profession," he says. "I never dreamed that things would progress as far as they have."
After he moved to Houston, Watson began performing and developed a strong local following, at one point touring with the Wilburn Brothers and appearing with them at the Grand Ole Opry.
"Music is something I'm thankful for," Watson says. "I enjoy doing it. Now I don't know what I'd do without it."
From the time he started performing, Watson had fans.
"Even then, I had a good band and a great following in the area," he says. "But I couldn't even start to think about making a living at it.
"It was something we did for fun. When we'd move from one club to another club, the fans would move with me even before I had a recording contract.
"But I never would take the giant step of quitting my day job," Watson says. "Then a couple of guys heard me and said they'd like to record me."
However, Watson didn't believe anything would come from recording until he was invited to Nashville to record there.
"The pinnacle is Nashville," he says. "I started recording songs I thought were pretty good and released them independently.
"In 1974, we released the song 'Bad Water.' It was the first song I had to get into the national charts.
"I had another hit in 1975 and signed to a long-term contract," Watson says. "It's all history from there."
Known for a multi-octave range, Watson can still sing in the same key as 30 years ago. He had to work to develop his powerful voice.
"In the beginning, I had all kinds of high notes," Watson says. "I could sing up where the birds could chirp, but I didn't have any low notes, any mellow notes, and it bothered me.
"It's really hard to develop low, pretty, mellow notes and still retain the high notes. It's just something I worked at a little at a time at each and every show.
"I don't really know when or how, but it seemed it all equalized out," he says. "Now what you hear is what you get, thank the good Lord."
The ability is due to more than work.
"I honestly think one of the great contributing factors is I quit drinking nearly 34 years ago," Watson says. "I did drink my share in the day and was an extremely heavy smoker.
"It wasn't rare for me to smoke three or four packs a day," he says. "I decided if I wanted to stay intact, I had to take better care of myself."
About 14 years ago, Watson successfully battled colon cancer.
"My health is good," he says. "I go for regular checkups and as far as cancer, I'm cancer-free.
"I feel good, but I keep an eye on it, too. I try not to overdo and when I'm out on the road, I try my best to get as much rest as humanly possible, which is sometimes hard.
"The key to my voice is how much rest I get," Watson says. "If I get really tired, it affects my voice."
After a long stream of recordings, Watson's latest album is "My Heroes Have Always Been Country." On it, he pays tribute to his own musical heroes, including Merle Haggard, Ray Price, Lefty Frizzell, Willie Nelson and George Jones.
In 2002, Watson was inducted into the Texas Music Hall of Fame and in 2013, he was inducted into the first class of the Houston Music Hall of Fame. He also was named the 2010 Country Music Legend.
These days, at 70, Watson is busier than ever.
"I'm probably working more now than 20 years ago," he says. "They're more select jobs. I'm not doing hardly any clubs anymore.
"I've just about quit doing two shows a day completely. I try to do 75 to 80 dates a year.
"When you factor in solo dates, TV and special appearances, that's enough," Watson says. "I'm not a young gun. I'm consistent as hell, but not a roadrunner."