Jason Isbell Won’t Back Down from Covid Stance

In late July, Grammy-winning artist Jason Isbell announced that for all his future shows he would require either proof of Covid vaccination or a recent negative Covid test. He was not alone. Shortly after that announcement, AEG, promoters for the Coachella and JazzFest festivals (the latter was recently cancelled) came on board, to be followed by Live Nation (promoters of Bonnaroo),  12 of the most popular live music venues in Nashville, and multiple other festivals.  Many others are considering similar requirements.

The blowback was immediate. On August 11th, Isbell was scheduled to play a show with Lucinda Williams opening at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in Houston. According to Isbell, the venue was unwilling to comply with his requirements, so the show was cancelled. Billy Bob’s Texas, the legendary honkytonk,  announced they would host the show and enforce the safety requirement, and were promptly bombarded with threatening insults. Marty Travis, the GM of Billy Bob’s, said it was as if he “…ripped a picture of the pope in half.”

Listed as the headliner at the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion Festival, scheduled for September 10-12, Isbell pulled out of the festival after the organizers decided not to comply. He was followed promptly by R&B singer Yola. While the festival claimed it was not legally allowed to comply, other venues in Tennessee have complied.

For fans of Isbell, there is nothing surprising about his stance. He’s never avoided controversy, whether taking on the traditional country music industry or right-wing political stances. In an interview this week with Variety, he noted:

It’s gonna separate the venues in some situations. But none of that is really even worth considering. I mean, whatever needs to be done, we’ll do it. It’s better to do a little bit of extra logistical work and try to figure out where we can play and when than it is to not be able to work at all. I know my tour managers would much rather be trying to sort out whether or not we can play at a particular venue than just sitting at home trying to figure out how much longer they’re going to get paid before we can go back on the road — because we’re headed for another shutdown if we don’t do this. It’s just as simple as that. It’s not going to be possible for us to just ignore the Delta variant and go on about our business. This is really the only way forward. We’re adding choices. No, we’re not taking away your freedom. We’re giving you an opportunity to choose. You could choose to stay your ass at home, and then you’ll be free, and alone. The constitution guarantees freedom in a lot of situations, but it doesn’t guarantee somebody else’s company. There’s no guard against loneliness, so good luck with that.


Isbell’s Twitter feed is one of constant entertainment. He frequently responds to criticism in ways that should be followed with a mic drop.


Isbell has sold out the Ryman Auditorium in the third week in October during his annual Ryman residency. It’s expected to go on as scheduled. Given the current status of Covid infection in the United States, it’s apparent that festival goers who are unvaccinated may have some decisions to make in the future.


Jason Isbell (St. Augustine Amphitheater) Photo credit: Rick Davidson

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