Jason Isbell with Father John Misty and Jade Bird at Merriweather Post Pavilion

In keeping with what seems to be my new tradition, I’m belatedly writing about a concert I went to last weekend. This time I do have a good excuse that’s not just laziness. I was busy at the ALA conference the three days following this concert and then last night we went to see Toy Story 4, so I didn’t have a chance to write anything.

Last Friday night I went to my final concert of the season at Merriweather unless they wind up sneaking something into their schedule last minute that I’m interested in. Everything I was interested in seeing this summer was stacked at the beginning of their schedule this year. This time it was Jason Isbell co-headlining with Father John Misty and Jade Bird opening.

I was very excited to see Jade Bird. I’ve been wanting to see her in concert for a couple of years now. She only just put out her first full length album this year, but I fell in love with her a couple of years ago when she put out her first EP and the song “Cathedral”. I enjoyed her set so much that it only just now occurs to me as I’m writing this that she didn’t even play “Cathedral” and it’s still probably my favorite song of hers. The summer that EP came out she wasn’t on the bill at the Newport Folk Festival, but she was hanging out there with one of the bands that was and came out and sang with them. I was hoping that was a harbinger that she would be on the bill for the next year, but alas she wasn’t and isn’t this year either. I also kicked myself because she opened for Hozier in Baltimore back in March. I was planning on going to that show, but forgot to put the ticket on-sale time on my calendar and by the time I realized it a few hours later everything was gone and resale tickets never came down to a reasonable price. Luckily this concert finally presented me with a chance to see her. She announced at the concert she’ll be back in DC at the 9:30 Club in October. At that point it wasn’t even officially announced because I immediately went to my phone after her set to see if I was going to be around since I’m traveling a bunch in October. It wasn’t even on her site or the 9:30 Club’s site yet. They finally announced it officially yesterday, and it turns out it’s really in September, but on a Saturday so I have no excuse not to trek down to DC for it.

She was worth the wait. It was just her up on the stage with an acoustic guitar and I have no idea how she made such powerful sounds with just those two things. Woman has some pipes that’s for sure. Jason Isbell even commented that with a voice like hers if she was a man she’d be the one up there headlining. No doubt. Stupid misogynistic music business. Stupid misogynistic world. Anyway, she only had a 30 minute set and she jam packed it full of songs. I was surprised at how many songs she seemed to get in within such a short amount of time especially since she did chat a little between each song. If she can get up and command a venue the size of Merriweather with just her guitar I can’t wait to see what she does with a venue like the 9:30 Club.

Father John Misty was the first headliner. I wasn’t completely sure what the order was going to be because the way I was reading the Merriweather line-up it seemed like he would be playing first, but every time Jason Isbell tweeted set times for the previous shows on their tour Father John Misty was the closing act. I was torn because I knew the closer would get an extra 15 minutes or so and get to do the encore, but on the other hand if Father John Misty was the closer then I could leave early because I just don’t care about him that much and I had to get up early the next morning to travel to DC for ALA. Turns out I did have to sit through the entirety of Father John Misty’s set. His music is okay. I like some of it and am agnostic about the rest. I don’t actively hate it. I will listen to it if it comes on to something I’m listening to, but it’s not something I have ever actively sought out to listen to. Plus I am super annoyed by his whole persona. It just seems so affected to me. Also, he’s the only set I’ve actively left at Newport because of him and not because I was rushing to see someone else with a conflicting set. This was back in 2015 I think before music did start to really get ultra political and message based again, and he was standing up there on stage denigrating pretty much everyone else at the festival basically saying they were a disgrace to the history of folk music because they weren’t fighting for anything anymore. Coming from someone who is pretty much playing a character, I felt that was pretty rich. I guess it didn’t offend too many people because he’s been back since then, but I walked out and it’s always stuck in my craw a little bit. His set was fine, but it didn’t do much for me and had he been the closing act I definitely would have left early on him again.

Unfortunately the couple sitting next to us showed up at the beginning of John Misty’s set. They were obviously already high on something and had many beers with them. I don’t know what they were on, but I’m guessing something that heightened their senses because the woman could not stop touching the guy. When she wasn’t climbing on him or making him out with him she wouldn’t stop touch his face. It was super obnoxious. This is the one reason I worry about getting actual seats at concerts because there’s a good chance you’re stuck next to whoever winds up next to you. In this case luckily there were still a lot of open seats at the back of pavilion so halfway through Father John Misty’s set I suggested we downgrade ourselves to get away from these people. By the end of the night they were sitting in kind of a hole because everyone around them had moved somewhere else. Moving to a sparsely inhabited section also meant that I could sing my little heart out along with Jason Isbell. I never do that at concerts unless it’s a song where everyone in the crowd is singing along because I certainly get annoyed at shows where no one else is singing but the person next to me and then it’s just like they’re competing with the actual person I’m there to see and it’s super annoying. I don’t want to be that person. With no one next to me (except my husband who doesn’t count) or in front of me I could have my own private sing-a-long.

Jason Isbell was great as always. He was in one of his looser, chatty moods which I always like the best. Sometimes he gets up and plays without too much stage banter. I always like the times when he feels like talking a bit between songs because he’s a funny guy. His wife Amanda Shires was not there playing fiddle because she was off playing with John Prine. I always prefer when she’s playing with the 400 Unit, but I know she’s got her own thing going on too. I especially miss her on songs like “Cover Me Up” and “If We Were Vampires”, which are so much about them that it almost seems wrong to play them if she’s not there. He always plays a couple of songs from his Drive-by Trucker years, but this time they weren’t the ones I’ve heard him play the most. I’ve heard him play “Outfit” before, but this was a first for “Goddamn Lonely Love”. He also played “Maybe It’s Time”, the song he wrote for Bradley Cooper to sing in A Star is Born. That was the first time I’d heard him play that song live as well. He also debuted a new song called “Overseas”. I had seen some headline the week prior about him debuting a new song, but when I clicked through on the headline it was that he sang a new song at a concert with an embedded YouTube video from someone recording at the concert, which had already been pulled down. So I didn’t get to listen at that point. I was excited to finally hear it. I love it, and it’s making me excited for a new album. I just love his songwriting so much. The new song starts off with the line “This used to be a ghost town, but even the ghosts got out.” That is such a stellar lyric. I don’t know anyone else who writes lyrics like he does. He also ended the show with another song I’d never heard him play before. He played a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well” as the first song of his encore. So all in all it was a night of a lot of firsts for me, which is pretty amazing given how many times I’ve seen him in concert. Sadly this is probably the only time I’ll be seeing him this year, but hopefully he’ll be recording this album soon and I’ll have new music to listen to and more reasons to see him in concert again in the future.

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