Jason Isbell – Brown’s Island, Richmond VA August 8, 2023
Jason Isbell released his widely acclaimed album Weathervanes in June, which many say now rivals his widely popular release Southeastern (slated to be reissued for its 10 year anniversary next month), so his tours right now are allowing the songs from Weathervanes to blossom and grow more fully in the hearts and minds of fans as the melodies and riffs become more fully fleshed out.
Last Tuesday night he and the 400 unit stopped in Richmond at the lovely outdoor island stage in Brown’s Island park. At the park, fans were lined up at the quality food trucks beforehand; there was a free water station and general feeling of gentle expectation among the crowd as they assembled themselves in the general admission and lawn sections. Everyone was chill.
Just before sunset, and after SG Goodman’s set, the band came onstage with a power move, rocking Jason’s new song “When We Were Close,” and they lit up the air with the rock ‘n roll stength of this raw homage to Justin Townes Earle. In the pause afterward, Jason noticed that someone in the crowd was holding up a sign proclaiming that this was their first concert. He said to them into the mic, “don’t worry, other concerts will not be as sad as this one.” It was lightly humorous but true, but with this caveat: his songs don’t draw out into a hopeless sadness. They are more poignant and cathartic, and people welcome the moments of solidarity within them with a gratitude that someone sees their quiet inner desperation. This is why Jason Isbell fans are so loyal. He addresses the core we often don’t speak about.
People sang along voicing their own poignancy all evening, with touches of pain in their expressions, rising to searing painful lines as songs covered a wide range of the things that make humans cry. The death of a friend from the concert opener: “When We Were Close,” divorce: “mama curling up beside me crying to herself” in “Dreamsicle.” And it went on all night: drug addiction in “King of Oklahoma,” with “she used to make me feel like the king of Oklahoma, but nothing makes me feel like much of nothing anymore,” school shooting (where several people were wiping their eyes during some of the lines) on “Save the World” with “we can find a time to fall apart, say the names of all the dead. I’m still dreaming in my heart of hearts but something’s changing in my head.”
People sang along softly to the ones that touched their particular heartstrings, and there was something for every experience, and most everyone I saw wiped away tears at some point.
“Last of My Kind” tackles some very sorrowful realizations of mortality and struggle with “daddy said the river will always take me home, but the river can’t take me back in time, and daddy’s dead and gone,” and “mama said god won’t give you too much to bear. That might be true in Arkansas but I’m a long, long way from there.”
“Miles” captures the distance between family members and with your own children: “there’s miles between us…” and “White Beretta,” a song about abortion, with “I was sitting at a red light listening to Son Volt ‘may the wind take your troubles away.’ I could have been somebody’s father. I couldn’t boil a pot of water. I was nineteen years old in 1990.” Incidentally, “Windfall” by Son Volt played over the speakers before the band began the show.
Someone standing nearby in the crowd was wearing a shirt with song lyrics from “Flying Over Water” and their face lit up when the opening notes rang out: “from the sky we look so organized and brave, walls that make up barricades and graves, daddy’s little empire built by hands and built by slaves, from the sky we look so organized and brave.”
Later in the set Jason Isbell played the beautiful “Cover Me Up” with the line about Richmond which the whole crowd sang in unison, and then cheered as he sang the redemptive “I swore off that stuff forever this time.”
It was a wonderful and emotionally moving night. The band heavily dished out the rock n roll all along the way, with both Jason and Sadler ripping on guitars. The last encore lifted people up and sent them off into the Richmond streets and home with the gripping and funny “This Ain’t It” with “baby how’d you wind up here, in a Texas town, in a wedding gown, with a near beer.”
Jason and the band played watching the sunset behind the crowd on the beautiful island in Virginia. Most of Weathervanes was played (all but two songs) plus others from his catalogue and one that Sadler Vaden sang (the Drivin’ N Cryin song “Honeysuckle Blue”). Anna Butters was on bass, with the rest of the original band (Sadler, Derry DeBorja, Chad Gamble), and Will Johnson. In front of Derry’s set-up was a sign saying “Happy Birthday Billy.”
Find more information and tour dates for Jason Isbell here: http://www.jasonisbell.com
Enjoy our previous coverage here: Show Review: Jason Isbell at Wolf Trap with SG Goodman
SG Goodman opened the night with her moving songs with intelligent lyrics. If you haven’t listened to her, I suggest taking a listen to Teeth Marks on headphones. Find more information here: http://www.sggoodman.net and enjoy our previous coverage here: REVIEW: S. G. Goodman “Teeth Marks”
When We Were Close
Save the World
King of Oklahoma
Last of My Kind
Flying Over Water
Middle of the Morning
Honeysuckle Blue (Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ cover)
Cast Iron Skillet
Cover Me Up
If We Were Vampires
This Ain’t It