When I was a kid there were only two places to dream about: Disneyland and The Ryman. The former is, of course, a manufactured commercial playground, but hey, we were children, and besides it was an unobtainable dream. The other was within our realm of possibility as we had family that lived an hour west of Nashville. With lunch baskets under my parents' arms we would visit the Opry when the pull of family called.
Now it is a different call that often takes me to The Ryman. This past Saturday night was no exception. While Jason Isbell has long been on the music scene, first as a member of the Drive By Truckers and then as a solo artist beginning in 2007 with a string of albums under his own belt after he was unceremoniously booted out of the band.
But with the universal praise and his new album Southeastern
topping the Americana charts for weeks, Saturday night's show at The Ryman felt like a coming out party, a signature event acknowleging his arrival as a force to be reckoned with not just in his genre, but on the cusp of something more expansive. There was no doubt that is was his night as even Amanda Shires who has just released a very fine album that is getting great press played a supporting role in the background.
The show had very quickly sold out. While the audience tended to be on the twenty-something end, there was a fine mixture of age groups and clothing styles, many out of towners and locals mixed with family members (both his and Amanda's) and music city insiders. More often than not many fans sang along with the songs -- sometimes a bit obnoxiously so -- even the new ones.
Besides his talent and his apparent comfortability in his own skin, you get the sense that he is really just as nice and genuine as he comes across on stage. While patronization becomes a near necessary staple to a lot of performers, when Isbell approached me after a sound check during a recent Mountain Stage performance (which was aired this past weekend) and thanked me for my assistance (minimal as it was) I felt he had long let go of his demons and become the southern gentleman his parents had raised.
The 2 1/2 hour performance was evenly paced with a mixture of up tempo songs, Drive By Truckers, introspective acoustic soul searchings and a few rockers that paid homage to his Muscle Shoals roots. Too many highlights to reel off, but great crowd responses to this Americana song of last year, "Alabama Pines," and two from the the new album, "Elephant" and "Live Oak."
The show closed with five encore songs and as we neared midnight, they played the loudest song of the evening, the Stones' "Can't You Hear Me Knocking?" And tonight at 6 PM ET, Isbell and the band do an Austin City Limits streaming set:
However, the same could not exactly be said for Caitlin Rose, a talented local singer-songwriter whose parents are in the business. As I had only seen her perform as a guest with others, I was looking forward to her opening set as she too has a relatively new album out. As with the new record, her voice got lost in the mix of the six piece band with two backup vocalists. Not that one has to be a belter, or anything close to it, you've got to sell the song. In short, she played a tepid, if well-meaning, set.
Partial Setlist for Jason Isbell:
Flying Over WaterGo It Alone
Goddam Lonely Love
Tour of Duty
Cover Me Up
Never Gonna Change
Heart On A String
Can't You Hear Me Knocking