Jason Isbell Plays Cincinnati This Weekend and His Return to Ohio Was Worth the Wait

Jason Isbell will perform back-to-back shows at the ICON Music Center on Friday, Dec. 10, and Saturday, Dec. 11.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit at Akron Civic Theatre - Photo: Vince Grzegorek
Photo: Vince Grzegorek
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit at Akron Civic Theatre

Alt-Country stalwart Jason Isbell and his band the 400 Unit are on their way to Cincinnati.

Isbell will perform back-to-back shows at the Andrew J Brady ICON Music Center on Friday, Dec. 10, and Saturday, Dec. 11. Grand Ole Opry star Marty Stuart will be the featured guest, along with Stuart's band, the Fabulous Superlatives.

Isbell stopped in Akron earlier this week and Vince Grzegorek of CityBeat's sister paper ClevelandScene wrote the following review.

It had been long enough since Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit had come to town that fans had not one but two new albums of material to look forward to hearing.

The Reunions tour swung through the Akron Civic Theatre (Dec. 8), where Isbell and crew mixed in seven songs from the May 2020 release and one from this fall's charity cover album, Georgia Blue ("Honeysuckle Blue" by Drivin' N Cryin', with original Drivin' N Crying' member and 400 Unit guitarist Sadler Vaden leading on vocals).

Isbell, who debuted Reunions live with a virtual stream from Brooklyn Bowl Nashville last year, was as excited as anyone to be there. Remarking generally about how nice it was to play for fans again, Isbell also specifically mentioned how nice it was to play at the gorgeous Akron Civic Theatre.

"I'm just so excited to play this room," he said early in the show, which kicked off with "What've I Done to Help" from Reunions and featured selections dating clear back through his catalog.

Isbell's only 42 years old, which feels young for a guy who's been crafting songs for what feels like just as long instead of only half of it. That remarkable 20-year run from when he joined the Drive-By Truckers through his early solo work through his albums with the 400 Unit has been prodigious and acclaimed, filled with enough songs to make two greatest hits albums. Which makes paring everything down to one show tough, especially when all seven songs pulled from the latest album ("St. Peter's Autograph," for instance) absolutely belong beside fan favorites from decades past (like "Alabama Pines.")

They've been mixing up the setlists on this tour, dropping in a DBT song or two (Akron got "Goddamn Lonely Love"), other Georgia Blue covers, and swapping out some deep cuts for others.

Last night it meant a mix of brawny Southern, guitar-driven rock like "Be Afraid," "It Gets Easier," and "Hope the High Road," more delicate songs such as "24 Frames" that had Isbell and the 400 Unit exploring some extended mid-song jams, and masterclass show-stopping ballads like "Elephant," "Cover Me Up," and "If We Were Vampires" (which worked well despite the absence of Amanda Shires, whose new Christmas album everyone should also check out).

Inevitable requests came shouted from the audience between songs — a "Flying Over Water" here, a "Codeine" there —  but only one person got their request honored: Isbell's 7-year-old daughter, who was in attendance backstage and wanted to hear Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well."

"Of course she picked a cover," Isbell joked.


What've I Done to Help
Hope the High Road
It Gets Easier
Something More Than Free
Oh Well
Alabama Pines
Honeysuckle Blue
If We Were Vampires
Be Afraid
Goddamn Lonely Love
Last of My Kind
Only Children
24 Frames
Cover Me Up

St. Peter's Autograph
Super 8

Isbell's show at Cincinnati's ICON (and elsewhere) will require fans to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (having received their final vaccine dose at least two weeks prior to the show), with proof of vaccination. Fans also can supply proof of a negative diagnostic COVID-19 test that was administered no more than 48 hours before the event.

The performer has been outspoken about the need for COVID-19 vaccines in order to protect musicians, crew members, venue workers and fans. He was among the first and most vocal to institute full vaccination requirements for his shows.

Doors open at 7 p.m. both nights. Tickets and more info are available at iconmusiccenter.com.

A version of this story was originally published by CityBeat sister newspaper Cleveland Scene.

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