Red Butte Garden’s 2021 Outdoor Concert Series kicks off this week with a show that sold out before most of us could even try to get our hands on tickets: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit.
I first became interested in Jason Isbell’s music in an unusual way. Not on the radio or music streaming app or even a friend’s insistent recommendation. I first took note of Isbell in an interview with him on the political commentary podcast Pod Save America in 2018. From his thoughts on empathy to partisan politics to The Chicks, what struck me was his thoughtfulness and his frankness in sharing his beliefs. In a show of my own ignorance, it wasn’t what I expected from someone known as a Nashville country/Americana singer. I wanted to hear this man’s music.
It’s apparent why Jason Isbell is widely regarded as one of the Americana genre’s best songwriters (if not one of the best songwriters in general). Isbell seems to apply that same thought to his music as well, and the latest album adds a healthy dose of nostalgia to the mix. Reunions (2020), recorded with his band the 400 Unit, is also a response to their previous success.
“Success is a very nice problem to have but I think ‘how do I get through it and not lose what made me good in the first place?’” he’s quoted saying in a band release. “A lot of these songs and the overall concept of this album is how do I progress as an artist and a human being and still keep that same hunger that I had when I wasn’t quite so far along in either respect.”
Just for fun (and maybe as a bit of a palate cleanser after Reunions, rife with personal history and deep emotion), check out the cover Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit did of Metallica’s Sad But True, featuring a mean slide guitar, for the 30th anniversary of Metallica’s Black Album.
Rounding out the band are Sadler Vaden (guitar, backup vocals), Jimbo Hart (bass, backup vocals), Derry DeBorja (keyboard, accordion, backup vocals), Chad Gamble (drums, backup vocals) and Isbell’s wife and creative partner, Amanda Shires. Shires plays fiddle and sings backup in the 400 Unit, and Isbell plays guitar for Shires’s The Highwomen.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit perform Friday, July 30 at the Red Butte Gardens Amphitheater as part of the 2021 Outdoor Concert Series with special guest Lucinda Williams. No matter where you stand on the politics, you’ve still got good music to enjoy.
Tickets are on sale to other shows for the Red Butte Outdoor Concert Series website.