Words by Dan Rozman, some photos by Mark Raker.
The Wolf Trap National Park Center for the Performing Arts has resumed shows with COVID precautions in place. On September 14 Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (pronounced Is Bull) returned to Wolf Trap’s Filene Center. The weather was perfect for this nearly sold out show, and the lawn was full for pre-concert picnicking. The four-time Grammy award winner’s set consisted of 21 songs drawn from 7 albums, including a two-song encore. Isbell repeatedly thanked the crowd for their support and stressed how nice it is to be playing “ a real show with real people and no screens.”
This tour is the first time that they have played songs from their 2020 album, Reunions. Isbell performed several songs about his home state of Alabama and he gave a shout- out and dedicated a song to his friend, former Alabama US Senator and CNN commentator, Doug Jones. After Alabama Pines, the band played songs that Isbell said, “could’ve happened anywhere”. They also played a special cover of REM’s Driver 8 which is on his newest album Georgia Blues. During the 2020 presidential election, Isbell tweeted “If Biden wins Georgia, I’m gonna make a charity covers album of my favorite Georgia songs — R.E.M., Gladys Knight, Vic Chesnutt, Allmans, Cat Power, Precious Bryant, Now It’s Overhead, etc… And damn is that gonna be fun.” As promised, they made the 13-song album , Georgia Blue which will be released first on digital on October 15, 2021 with the CD/ Vinyl due out in November.
When listening to Isbell you feel that you know him, as his storytelling and genuine comfortable presence connects so well with the audience. So many of the songs are personal ballads that lead you through different times in his life. He opens up about relationships, alcohol, and parenthood.
Some of the hits he played included: “24 Frames” winner of Best American Roots Song which is on Something More Than Free the winner of the 58th Annual Grammy Awards Best Americana Album. “If We Were Vampires” winner of Best American Roots Song which is on The Nashville Sound the winner of the 60th Annual Grammy Awards Best Americana Album.
The set ended with personal song “Cover Me Up” In a 2013 interview with NPR he said “That was a hard one for me to even get through without breaking down the first time, because that one is really personal,” “It’s not easy to sit down and open yourself up and say, ‘This is how much I love you,’ you know? It’s scary to do that.”
One fan, Aaron Goetz, who first saw Isbell at DelFest in 2015 summed up the night, “Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s shows are more than just music. They’re a trip down memory lane. They’re a walk side by side through life and just happen to be accompanied with exemplary musicianship.” The Wolf Trap show “was a celebration of this and his touching tribute song to his daughter Mercy was moving for this Dad. Perfection.”
Opening for Isbell was Waxahatchee. We were treated to Katie Crutchfield with Detroit based Bonny Doon backing. They played a 45-minute,12 song set where Crutchfield also talked about how great it is to be playing live since they didn’t get to do it last year. They showcased the new Waxahatchee album St Cloud which came out in March of 2020. They also played “Long Wave”, a song by Bonny Doon. Old and new fans alike have two more local opportunities to see Waxahatchee who will be back in the DC area at the Lincoln Theatre on October 8th and 18th.
The setlist for Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit:
“What’ve I Done to Help”
“Hope the High Road”
“It Gets Easier”
“Letting You Go”
“Last of My Kind”
“Driver 8” REM cover
“If We Were Vampires”
“Something More Than Free”
“Speed Trap Town”
“Flying Over Water”
“Cover Me Up”
“Tour of Duty”
“Never Gonna Change” Drive By Truckers cover
The setlist for Waxahatchee:
“Chapel of Pines”
“Can’t Do Much”
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