Fortunately, others were on board as well, including members of Isbell’s first band, the Drive-by Truckers, Slobberbone and Centro-matic. For the first time since Isbell left the Truckers in 2007, the two shared a bill in Florence, Ala., as the two-day festival concluded last weekend. Isbell joined the Truckers on stage for two songs, then Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley returned the favor for the encore of Isbell’s set.
“This was my favorite thing in 2019,” Isbell said as his Saturday night set began. “I was so looking forward to doing it last year. I know you had to jump through some hoops, but I’m glad you’re here and we’re here to have a good time.”
Hood, who brought his father David on stage for a cover of Eddie Hinton’s “Everybody Needs Love” and sang backup on Slobberbone’s “Give Me Back My Dog,” grinned ear to ear all day Sunday.
“This has been one of my favorite days of my entire life,” Hood said. “Today has been about the most perfect day I have ever had. And then I get to bring my dad out. How can this day get any better?”
David Hood was the bassist for the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, aka the Swampers. Another nod to the glory days of Muscle Shoals came during a set by the remarkable Candi Staton, the still vigorous 81-year-old singer best known for “Young Hearts Run Free” and her remake of Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man.”
During her set, Staton recalled sitting in the studio with the late Mac Davis, who encouraged her to perform a cover of Elvis Presley’s “In the Ghetto.”
“Mac Davis said: ‘You know what? I think a woman should sing this song, because it’s about a woman’,” Staton said before performing the song she recorded for her self-titled 1972 album.
Lucinda Williams, still recovering from the effects of a stroke she suffered last fall, sat for the first half of her set, but stood unsteadily for the rest. Still in fine voice, and working with a great band, she told the audience she still cannot play guitar.
Held at McFarland Park on the Tennessee River, the festival opened both afternoons with cloudy skies and occasional drizzle as Farmer Jason played a solo acoustic set in a wooded area. Also known as the front man of Jason and the Scorchers, he concluded both sets with the fun “Punk Rock Skunk,” setting the stage (literally) for what was to come.
On Saturday, blues musician Cedric Burnside opened the show on the stage and was followed by Amanda Shires, who performed her first lead set with her band since the pandemic began. Isbell made his first appearance to introduce his wife and was on guitar for her entire set, which was highlighted by Shires’ cover of Bob Dylan’s “To Make You Feel My Love.” Shires dedicated the song to Traci Thomas (Isbell’s manager), who got married on Thursday in Florence with Isbell, Shires, Hood and Cooley in attendance.
After the sets by Staton and Williams, Isbell closed out the first day with the 400 Unit, performing several songs from Reunions and two covers from Georgia Blue, which will be released online next Friday. Isbell took the lead on R.E.M.’s “Driver 8,” while Sadler Vaden had the lead vocals on Drivin’ N Cryin’s “Honeysuckle Blue.” Vaden was a member of that band before joining the 400 Unit.
Brent Best, Slobberbone’s front man, told the crowd he wasn’t planning to tour anymore when he was asked to play at ShoalsFest.
“Who would have thought it?” Best said. “I always said there’s nothing you’re going to do to get me to go back out on the road again. Then they said, ‘Well, it’s going to be you, Centro-matic, the Truckers and Isbell.’ And I said, ‘Ah … shit.’”
But reunions, and the joy of performing, were the theme of the weekend. The crowd erupted when Isbell joined the Truckers to play on “Heathens” and to take the lead on “The Day John Henry Died.” After Hood and Cooley joined the 400 Unit for the encore of “Outfit” and “Decoration Day,” the festival came to a close.
And that, as they say, was that. It was a special weekend filled with joy. http://www.shoalsfest.net