In case you haven’t noticed, the last six months haven’t been the most exciting for live music.
With the exception of some drive-in concerts and ill-advised shows like Smash Mouth at Sturgis, it’s been slim pickings.
But I recently got a pick-me up in the form of a download release of a concert I attended in June 2019. The show I saw in my then-home of Bend, Ore., by Americana artist Jason Isbell and his band, the 400 Unit, was great, but I was a little surprised to find it chosen for wide release.
While some artists I like to see in concert, such as Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam, release all their concerts for sale online within days, Isbell typically releases only select shows. So I was taken aback that he’d chosen one from a remote Oregon mountain city as one of the few.
But I was glad to see Isbell and his people had the same feeling I did, that it was a memorable night that deserved to be documented.
Needless to say, I purchased the download (and a commemorative T-shirt) shortly after it became available a couple weeks ago. It was fun to again hear Isbell make remarks that I remember from the evening, like what a beautiful night it was (for someplace where June temperatures can be anywhere from 40 to 100 degrees, the high in the 80s was great).
The show took place at a lovely amphitheater on the Deschutes River, where kayakers would gather to listen. Since it was a clear evening, you could see the Cascade Mountain peaks before the sun went down.
There also were some remarks I didn’t remember that listening back to the show reminded me of, like Isbell joking about Bend being home to the world’s only remaining Blockbuster Video (which is probably what the city is best known for).
I was moved by how gracious Isbell was, thanking the audience after nearly every song.
Then there was the music. As someone who just started listening to Isbell a year earlier, he mostly played songs I was familiar with like “Anxiety,” “Cover Me Up” and “Elephant.” But he also had a surprise up his sleeve, a reunion in the encore with Patterson Hood, Isbell’s former bandmate in the Georgia-based band Drive-By Truckers (I suspect that rare get-together is why the show was selected for wide release).
Isbell also gave an early performance of “Overseas,” a song that wouldn’t be officially released until May 2020, when his excellent new album “Reunions” came out. Of course, the world changed drastically in those 11 months, and that is one reason I look back so fondly on that 2019 night.
It didn’t seem like it at the time, but it was a more innocent time, when you actually could attend concerts without worrying about getting sick.
As I was planning my move to Missouri, I bought tickets to see Isbell’s Reunions tour in St. Louis in June 2020. Like many concerts, COVID-19 led to that show being postponed.
By the time the postponement was announced, it wasn’t a surprise, but it was still disappointing. Officially, the show was rescheduled for April 2021, but I initially didn’t hold out much hope for it being able to take place then.
Isbell has been hit hard by the pandemic, with COVID-19 taking the life of his friend and mentor, John Prine. He had been off the road since the pandemic started, but we recently got a ray of hope when Isbell scheduled an outdoor “drive-in” show for October in Georgia.
So while I would still be surprised if he were able to play his planned indoor theater show, I am game if Isbell wants to bring a drive-in tour to Missouri.