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06.29.2024: Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit @Beak and Skiff

It was an inauspicious start: 1) over an inch of rain was in the forecast for the day and meteorologists were predicting scattered severe storms, 2) I had received only silence from Jason Isbell's management regarding a photo credential despite having reached out via three channels over the course of the week, 3) the start time of the concert moved up an hour to 6 PM (something I'd only learned of by chance from a friend), and 4) when I arrived at the gate, I was informed that as the schedule had slipped yet again, Courtney Marie Andrews, who was slated to open, was no longer going to perform, and what's more Isbell's team (the woman at will call texted them on my behalf, never having received a response myself) was not to have sympathy on this small time rag, and so, with a curt "I'm sorry, you don't have management approval" from Isbell's team, back to the car I went: my camera was officially persona-non-grata in the venue. Jason Isbell may not want to die in a Super 8 motel, but in that moment, I sure felt like I could have there in that muddy apple orchard parking lot.

Luckily I still had my phone...

It's cliche to say my mood matched the weather, but I've found much truth underpins most cliches. The sky was moody and grey, the wind was blustery, but the rain held off. Honestly it felt more like walking into a mid season football game than a concert being held the week before the Fourth of July. The crew proceeded to sound check for the next hour, with the concert not starting until a little past the originally planned time of seven PM, but now without an opener.

Bassist Anna Butterss and the titular Jason Isbell

When Jason Isbell strode on stage and launched into When We Were Close, the weather was still threatening, with the lighting truss at the top of the stage seeming to sway in the wind in time to the first couple songs, of what would end up being a 19 song night. Eventually and to everyone's relief, the sun would break through the clouds. While I may have been in my feels, the crowd definitely was not. This crowd, which skewed older (average age was probably50+), loved to since along and could be heard over the PA almost every song. They sang along to song. They held their dated tight and swayed during "If We Were Vampires" and cheered mid song when Jason sang about getting sober in "Cover Me Up." The night got better and better as the show wore on and the sun did eventually break through.

Proof the sun did indeed shine!

As performances go, it was solid but not exceptional. I'd previously seen Isbell and friends play at the Ryman in Nashville and I'm not sure if it was the venue, stress from the weather, or something else, but this just wasn't up to the same level. The setlist was more constrained, and Jason seemed much more willing to let guitarist Sadler Vaden handle more of the solo work than when I saw him last. His stage banter was limited to mostly quips, one liners, and inside jokes with the band, such as poking keyboardist Derry deBorja about his inability to eat apples, which was followed up at the next break with Jason offering the sharp comeback that Derry could have responded with of "well at least I can have a drink." It wasn't the least banter I've witnessed (a title still held by Zakk Wylde) but it was not much in the way of crowd interaction and stories a la The National's Matt Berninger.

All things considered, it was a very good show. I can't fault the band for the schedule changes, which I'm sure were due to the weather. I'm sure even a bad Jason Isbell show is pretty damn great, but the truth still remains: it was not the best Jason Isbell show I've seen.

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