Attending my first concert of 2017 was a challenge. The first and only e-mail warning about this special benefit show at the Franklin Theatre arrived in my inbox at 10am on a Friday with the short notice that tickets were going on sale at noon. Surely, this scant two hours warning would keep things under the radar enough to make getting tickets easy. But, I should have never under-estimated Jason’s local popularity. It became a frustrating experience at the Theatre’s website that left me and many other fans ticketless. Pulling a pair of front row seats into my shopping cart only to find them no longer available was the start of a repeating process as I watched the available seats quickly disappear.
Having some time at home before entering the studio to work on the follow-up to 2015’s Something More Than Free with producer Dave Cobb found Isbell in a benevolent spirit. This Monday night show was a follow up to a Saturday slot as part of another benefit show at the Bluebird Café. Tonight, Jason would support his home state (The Alabama Tourism Department) from a stage in his new adopted home town of Franklin.
I was not about to miss this small-scale show by my favorite current artist, especially one happening in my home town. After making a worthless effort to get on a lengthy waiting list for potential cancellations, in the weeks up until the show, I watched a few tickets appear on Craigslist at prices in the $500 range.
Although I hesitate giving up my secret, I have been through these things before and have learned one thing—there is almost always at least one ticket available outside the venue before show time. To find it though takes patience and perseverance.
I arrived early to wait out front in the cold, and surprisingly was the only desperate soul trying to get in. The drill is to simply ask every one you see if they have an extra ticket and thank them nicely if they don’t. Looking for that person who got sick or bailed out at the last minute, approaching an odd-numbered group really got my hopes up. After 90-minutes of working the door, my angel finally appeared with an extra single ticket in the second row that he kindly sold to me at face value. It was magical to suddenly find myself sitting in the warm theater after my prolonged outdoor exercise. Sheepishly, it was also fun to have people I approached for tickets congratulate me on getting in.
Enough about me. It was time for the show, and as Jason’s tweet forewarned, things started promptly just after 8pm. As is often the case for his local acoustic shows, he was joined by the wife, Ms. Amanda Shires, on violin and backing vocals for the evening. The divergence of hearing Jason stripped from his band the 400 Unit is always a pleasure. I forever find myself lost in his lyrics and never fail to uncover a line or couplet whose impact had somehow previously escaped me.
The Isbells were as about as loose as I have ever seen them, and tonight’s chatter between songs was as captivating as the songs themselves. This was also the night of the National College Football Championship, and Jason joked how he had very few requests from friends tonight to be on the guest list. He also cracked us all up with a tale about Amanda discovering the Grateful Dead while working at Ralph’s Records in Lubbock where her store mate played Dead bootlegs non-stop. Jason joked that whenever he tunes his guitar, Amanda still thinks that he is just lost in a Grateful Dead jam!
Isbell stuck to a set list of his regular repertoire adhering to his usual practice of not testing any new songs live before they get worked-over in the studio. (He did deviate from this by dropping two new tunes at the song-proving grounds of the Bluebird two nights earlier.) Jason remarked how he thought the new songs had a “Big Star-feel,” but he’d yet to see what Dave Cobb’s arranging skills might do with them during the recording process. (In a later encounter with Cobb, he told me to expect a band record that was different-sounding, and in his opinion, the best Jason has ever done.)
Jason did let Amanda sing one, and together they reprised their popular duet of a Warren Zevon song that I thank them for helping me rediscover.
It was a fine and fortunate Monday night for this Franklin native. All I could have hoped for was to hear a few new songs, but for those I will happily wait. With the announcement of April shows in Chattanooga and Knoxville, I’m ready for an Isbell-assault on Music City. Holding out for multiple nights at the Ryman, my gut tells me that the larger Ascend Amphitheater might be an alternative.
And to the Franklin Theatre, let’s work on that ticket website to avoid nail biters like this one in the future. I also thought that the sound could have been cranked up a little for this intimate evening. But, forgive me for griping, and let me again thank both the Theatre and the Isbells for the fabulous evening.
- Tour of Duty
- Something More Than Free
- Different Days
- Traveling Alone
- The Life You Chose
- Speed Trap Town
- If It Takes a Lifetime
- Cover Me Up
- Alabama Pines
- Pale Fire (Amanda Shires song and lead vocal)
- Decoration Day
- 24 Frames
- Mutineer (Warren Zevon cover)
Jason Isbell – Vocals and Acoustic Guitar
Amanda Shires – Fiddle and Backing Vocals