"I'd like to bring out a very special guest," Jason Isbell told a hometown crowd at the Ryman Auditorium last night, during the final moments of his band's unprecedented, six-night run at the historic venue. "As far as I'm concerned, he's the best musician in town, which makes him high on the list of the best musicians in the whole wide world. Our dear friend, Mr. Jerry Douglas."
Isbell and the 400 Unit had just returned to the Ryman's stage for an encore, and they'd spent the entire week kicking off their encores the same way: by paying tribute to the late Tom Petty. "You Wreck Me," "American Girl" and "Room at the Top" were among the covers they had tackled earlier in the week, with each version remaining relatively faithful to the original. With Douglas onstage, though, the beefed-up band reimagined Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' 1982 hit, "You Got Lucky," as a Celtic rave-up driven forward by twin acoustic guitars, accordion, fiddle and their guest player's fiery fretwork on the Dobro.
Four years earlier, Isbell and Amanda Shires played a
similar version of "You Got Lucky" at the 2013 Petty Fest in Austin,
backed by a house band. Last night's performance was something different,
though – not only a salute to Petty, whose heartland rock & roll inspired
generations of small-town refugees like Isbell, but also an indication of the
many ways his music can (and hopefully will) be reinterpreted by today's crop
of folksingers, rockers and Americana artists.