I was surprised when getting ready to write this post to discover that Jason Isbell is only 35 years old. I thought he had to be at least, well, 42.
I mean this in the nicest possible way. Could a 35-year old really be writing lyrics of such penetrating wisdom? And of crafting the complex architecture of the songs that incorporate those lyrics so subtly and seamlessly?
And could a 35-year old be doing all of this was so little flash, with so much substance?
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit sold out their Savannah Music Festival show in the North Garden at the Ships of the Sea Museum on Sunday night — a near perfect venue for the band’s Southernish rock sound. (Isbell’s vocals were much sharper out in front of the stage than in the seats on the sides, I should note.) The audience seemed dominated by guys — many a few years older or a few years younger than Isbell, many that I know pretty well, many who are trying to find and create meaning in their own lives and in the world.
Despite some occasional pockets of chattiness in the crowd, I found myself swept along by the emotional arc of the night — an artist, a musician, a man in the process of constant self-evaluation and reinvention, allowing all of us to go along for the ride.
Isbell noted from the stage that he was singing mostly sad songs, but he invited the audience to imagine that he was singing about happy things if we wanted. I doubt anyone took him up on that.
Much of the long set — just shy of two hours — was devoted to songs from Isbell’s two recent albums, especially last year’s beautiful Southeastern. After Isbell played the soulful and intimate “Cover Me Up” deep into the show, most of the crowd rose in sustained applause — the show wasn’t over, but there was no other way to appreciate the deeply personal revelations of the song.
I could go on and on about various elements of the show, but there are already two other excellent local reviews out there: Bill DeYoung’s review for Connect Savannah and Chad Faries’ review for Do in the Savannah Morning News. Those are both well worth reading.
I’ll just finish with a mention of the restraint and quality of Isbell’s fellow musician. It was especially nice to see guitarist Sadler Vaden back in Savannah — I mentioned him numerous times when he was very young and played gigs at The Jinx fronting the Charleston-based band Leslie.