*Photo provided by an anonymous Facebook rule-breaking renegade
Jason Isbell brought his acoustic show to the Mountain Arts Center (MAC) for a nearly sold-out performance. Just over 1,000 tickets were gobbled up almost immediately and deservedly so. There were a few seats that opened up last minute, otherwise it would have certainly been a sell out.
I do want to say one thing about the MAC. I know I sound like a broken record, but the MAC is an absolute Kentucky treasure. I have now seen Chris Stapleton, Tyler Childers and Jason Isbell in that room. If you’re overlooking the MAC, you need to remedy that because those folks and the venue itself are top-notch.
Mr. Isbell is often recognized as one the greatest songwriters around and in what has became a winter tradition, Jason Isbell ends the year with
some stripped down acoustic shows. The fans travel from all over to enjoy such an intimate experience and we were very lucky to have been able to attend.
There was a buzz in the room as the excitement was palpable. We were joined by many of our local musicians as well. Folks like David and Teresa Prince, Grayson Jenkins, Aaron Boyd and Abby Hamilton were in attendance and their presence only added to the excitement.
No phones or photos are allowed at these type of shows and while I usually use my photos to tell my story, the no phones or photos policy was beautiful for several reasons.
The main reason is simple, people were engaged and actually listened intently. The other reason is no one was standing and holding a screen up in front of others. Now I’m not usually a proponent of telling folks what they can or can’t do, but in my humble opinion, this show totally warranted such a strict policy.
Having said all of that, the entire event felt more like a taping of Austin City Limits than a concert in Eastern Kentucky. Jason and Amanda were incredibly comfortable on the stage and their banter between songs was absolutely priceless.
While there were a couple of drunks who decided that it was a good idea to yell out song titles, the crowd was very well behaved and there were moments that you could have heard a pin drop on the room. Jason shut down one guys requests with a funny exchange about playing “Freebird”, but all in all it was an absolute joy to be in a room with well behaved music lovers.
The show certainly had many highlights including a song requested by a friend of the site. Ashley Wells is by far and away, the biggest fan of Mr. Isbell and Ms. Shires that I know. This show was Ashley’s 29th Isbell show and she was rewarded with her song of choice, in “Streetlights”. I’m super happy when fans get rewarded for their continued support and it’s even better when the fan is a friend.
One of my favorite moments was during the performance of “Cumberland Gap”, which is my personal favorite Isbell tune. The tune isn’t played all that often anymore, but Mr. Isbell knew the subject matter would mean a lot to the folks in Eastern Kentucky. During the performance, Jason forgot the lyrics a couple of times and for me, in the era of the sanitized and polished lives people put on social media, it was great to see someone simply be human. As odd as that probably sounds.
Many of the stories behind the songs were laid out for everyone as Mr. Isbell took the time to make this a very special show. Those stories made everyone feel as if they had spent two hours together getting to know the talented trio. It felt like the stage was their front porch and a thousand people were in their front yard.
The set was littered with many of his hits and one cover. More about that in a bit. Songs like “24 Frames, “Stockholm”, “Alabama Pines”, “Something More Than Free”, “Traveling Alone”, “Speed Trap Town” which was another of my favorites, and “Flying Over Water” were all fantastic.
“Different Days” was my absolute favorite performance on the night though. The song itself is very personal, but it is also one of the most relatable songs to me on a personal level. Sure the stories are all his, but I know that I’m certainly not the same person I was twenty years and that’s the beauty in this song and performance. It’s a triumph of growth and self-reflection and for whatever reason, it got me right smack dab in the feels and is once again gonna be back in heavy rotation. It’s funny how a song and your opinion of the song can change in an instant, but that’s exactly what happened on Sunday night.
Now I mentioned they played one cover song. That distinction goes to the John Prine classic, “Storm Windows”. While the performance was great, the story was even better. Jason and Amanda both told of Amanda being on the road with Mr. Prine. Amanda prefers to have an all female crew and just so happens that on this tour, they would all dress up in onesies that looked like cats. Amanda told John Prine, THEE John Prine that he was going to wear a onesie as well. Mr. Prine agreed, but only if Amanda could find one made like a sock monkey. John stated that he had a sock monkey as a child that he loved dearly, but he also thought that Amanda would never find a sock monkey onesie. And that’s where he was wrong. Within a day or two of their conversation, Amanda presented Mr. Prine his very own sock monkey onesie. Being a man of his word, Jason told us that now on their mantle at home sits a photo of John Prine in a sock monkey onesie surrounded by Amanda and her crew dressed up as cats. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, but in this it’s also hilarious!
You can see the photo and read a bit about it here.
“Cover Me Up” and “Last Of My Kind” closed out the main set before the eventual encore. The talented trio took the energy level up a notch with those two songs. They were absolutely jamming out and blew us all away as they gathered together mid-stage. By then, they could’ve sang the alphabet and we would have all enjoyed it.
As they closed the night, Mr. Isbell spoke graciously about how well they had been treated in Prestonsburg and his words were as genuine as the man himself. He spoke a bit about this being their last show of the year and in my humble opinion, they definitely saved the best for the last!