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Jason Isbell at KAABOO 2016, September 18th. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@Methodman13) for www.BlurredCulture.com.

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RECAP“I don’t want to die…in a Super 8 motel…” These are the last words that Jason Isbell softly croons into the microphone before he finishes his set and walks off the stage.  I’d never heard of Jason Isbell before he went on stage and he doesn’t really fit into the little slice of contemporary country that I’m familiar with, but I was told he’s kind of a big deal. So I’m there with an open mind and no expectations.

The first thing that stands out is his voice. Super clean. Powerful. You can hear every word of every song. Which cuts both ways because his lyrics are kinda dark. A whole lot of Alabama southern sadness. Father issues. Alcoholism. Loss. It all feels pretty heavy and very real. There are certainly moments when he lightens up but the prize is in the sorrow. The way he orchestrates a story of hurt and sadness imparts a certain stoic beauty to the pain. And God bless the guy, he gets it.

At one point he starts talking to the crowd about how cool it is for him to play the festival because he loves Cheech and Chong, and Cheech and Chong are doing a comedy set later that night and there’s this whole thing with musicians that he knows in Alabama who knew Cheech and Chong back in the day which somehow ties it all together for him in a cosmic full-circle kind of way that leaves him feeling stoked be here.

But as soon as he’s done chatting up the crowd, he wipes the smile from his face and starts to play this super gnarly song that had everybody in tears … or choking them back … or putting their therapist on speed dial … or grabbing another tray of $12 beers to numb the pain. And as he strums the final chords, what does he do? Dude starts cracking up. Laughing. Isbell explains that he knows it was kind of a dick move to get all chatty and tell stories about Cheech and Chong and then play that particular song – a song that taps into the deepest reaches of his personal darkness. However, he assures us that there’s a method to the madness, and that he doesn’t walk the earth chronically morose.

“See, I play all these sad songs so I can be a goofy happy son of bitch the rest of the time.”

Hey, as long it results in beautiful country melodies, do what you gotta do, Jason. It’s working. 

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