Jason Isbell told Monday night’s packed audience at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium that just playing one song on that hallowed stage would’ve made his “whole life.” So, he was beyond humbled to have sold out four straight shows at the historic venue — and within mere minutes.
Isbell kicked off the last concert of his four-night Ryman residency with “Flying Over Water,” a standout track from his 2013 Southeastern album. But most of his almost two and a half hour set was dedicated to this year’s critically-acclaimed Something More Than Free, as he belted new tunes including the country-rockers “If It Takes a Lifetime” and “24 Frames,” along with autobiographical story songs “How to Forget” and “Children of Children,” among several others.
“Decoration Day” took the crowd back to Isbell’s Drive-By Truckers days (and reminded us of his killer guitar skills), while older solo favorites “Cover Me Up,” “Stokholm” and “Alabama Pines” drew standing ovations — and one fan in the balcony shouting to the Muscle Shoals native that he “makes Alabama proud.”
The singer-songwriter’s wife, Amanda Shires harmonized and played fiddle throughout the set, alongside Isbell’s band of more than a decade, the 400 Unit. Famed photographer/filmmaker Danny Clinch was a special guest on harmonica for two songs toward the end of the show, followed by an encore surprise that drew thunderous applause: John Prine. The legendary singer-songwriter joined Isbell and Shires for a stripped-down rendition of his classic “Storm Windows.”
Chris Stapleton received just as hearty of a standing ovation as Isbell as he closed out his opening set Monday night. The Traveller singer, also joined center stage by his wife, Morgane, tore through tunes from his CMA award-nominated solo album — tunes with vocal reaches that more than solidify his CMA Male Vocalist of the Year nod, as well.